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Iowa Legal Separation
Legal Separation in Iowa

When a spouse wants to live apart from a partner for a while but remain married for any number of reasons, a legal separation is a useful routine. In Iowa, a couple is legally separated when the court declares that their assets and liabilities are no longer joint and that they have an arrangement for alimony and for child custody, visitation and support.

Separate maintenance agreements resolve nearly all the issues in establishing the terms and conditions of a separation, in which the spouses are not divorced, and may not remarry.

A legal separation requires that the petitioner submits a settlement agreement to the court that addresses the terms and conditions of the division of assets and liabilities, custody of the children and their support and alimony.

Some couples choose legal separation because neither of the spouses has lived in Iowa long enough to be eligible for divorce, while some choose it for religious reasons. Legal separation also allows one spouse to continue being covered by the medical insurance of the other.

On the other hand, legal separation costs as much as a divorce, and the party is not free to remarry. In Iowa, a legal separation does not prevent either spouse from filing for divorce during the separation.

Some couples use legal separation in preparation for divorce. In Iowa, divorces are granted if one of the spouses is impotent or insane, or has committed adultery, or engaged in cruel or humiliating behavior against the other. Barring any of these circumstances, a divorce can be granted if the couples live separate and apart for 18 months. Some couples obtain a legal separation so that, during the 18 months they are living apart, they understand the terms and conditions of their eventual divorce.

Separation Agreement

A separation agreement is a legal binding contract signed by spouses, which is intended to resolve property, debt and child related issues. This can be a very complex and detailed document depending upon the unique situation of the marriage. Many spouses consult an attorney to provide this or they decide to prepare their own.


The forms required for a legal separation are the same as those for a divorce. The petition must be filed in the county where the plaintiff lives, or if the plaintiff lives outside Iowa then in the county where the respondent lives.


To file for a legal separation, either spouse must have been a resident of the state for at least one year before filing, or the petition is filed in the circuit court with jurisdiction over the county in which either party resides. The plaintiff must have been a resident of Iowa for at least one year before filing the petition unless the plaintiff lives outside Iowa but the respondent meets the residency requirement. In that case the plaintiff may still file in Iowa.


Grounds for legal separations in Iowa are the same grounds as divorces. Iowa is a no-fault state, which means that there is only one recognized ground for dissolution of the marriage: the marriages irretrievable breakdown, or to the extent that the legitimate objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.


Filing requires four copies of the petition. One copy of the petition for legal separation is filed with the clerk of the district court, who time-stamps the three other copies. One of the time-stamped copies is served on the spouse within 90 days of filing. After 90 days of filing, the petitioner files the agreement and decree, or requests a hearing if the spouses cannot agree. At the hearing, the judge makes decisions about contested issues.

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