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The Difference Between a Divorce and an Annulment in Iowa

In the State of Iowa, spouses who want to end their marriages by divorce may also be eligible to end it by annulment as well. When an annulment decree is issued, it has the effect of treating one’s marriage like it never existed, as the union was never valid to begin with. On the other hand, when the marriage is valid, a divorce is the legal process that terminates the union. Petitions for annulment can be filed only in situations where the filing party(ies) can prove specific statutory grounds, as described in Iowa Code § 598.29. As a result, annulment decrees are issued more infrequently than divorce. The Iowa District Court has jurisdiction over divorce and annulment petitions within the State.

What is an Iowa Divorce Decree?

The legal document approving one’s divorce is referred to as the Final Decree of Dissolution of Marriage in Iowa. Typically, a divorce is not final until a judge signs this document and it is filed with the Clerk of District Court. A divorce decree will contain court orders, judicial decisions, spouses’ personal information, and basic case details. Orders which the court may approve include spousal/child support, child custody, parenting time, property distribution, and debt allocation. Divorced persons are required to stick to the terms of their divorce decree or be held in contempt of the court. Under Iowa Code § 598.24, persons who are found in contempt may be liable to pay the cost of the ensuing court proceedings, as well as the legal fees.

The records contained in documents related to family court include both marriage and divorce records. Both types of records contain information that is considered very personal to the parties involved, and it is recommended that those parties maintain these records with care in order to make changes in the future. The personal nature of these records results in both being considerably more difficult to find and obtain when compared to other types of public records. In many cases, these records are not available through either government sources or third party public record websites.

What is an Annulment in Iowa?

An annulment decree nullifies a person’s marriage contract in Iowa. Usually, an annulment petition is filed by the spouse who believes that such a person’s marriage is not valid legally. However, before this decree can be issued by a District Court judge, that person must demonstrate certain legal grounds (reasons). These grounds are outlined in Iowa Code § 598.29 and include:

  • Impotency: either party was impotent when the marriage was entered
  • Bigamy: either party already had a living husband or wife at the time of the marriage. This ground is valid only if both parties of the subsequent marriage, knowing their bigamous union, did not continue to live together after the death or divorce of the previous spouse.
  • Incestuous marriage: both parties are too related to be married
  • Underage marriage: either party was not of the legal age when the marriage took place
  • Lack of capacity or competence to consent to a marital union

Because an annulment reverts individuals to their previous civil status: unmarried or single, it may not be possible for the public to obtain records of such proceedings in Iowa.

Annulment vs Divorce in Iowa

Petitions for annulment and divorce proceedings in Iowa have separate legal grounds upon which they can be filed. While the grounds for annulment, as stated above, must be proven before an annulment decree can be issued and one’s marriage declared null, Iowa is essentially a no-fault divorce state. This means that divorce petitions can be filed only on the ground that one’s marriage is irreparably broken by no one’s fault and there is no probability of it being fixed. While, in some U.S States, the filing spouses only have to admit the breakdown of their marriages, Iowa law requires petitioners to provide reasonable evidence of this allegation in court.

Furthermore, in annulment and divorce proceedings, the court may order spousal support, property division, child support, and name change per Iowa Code §§ 598.21A, 598.21, 598.21B(2), and 598.37. However, in annulment suits, the court may compensate one spouse if it is discovered that such a person entered the marriage in good faith (Iowa Code § 598.32).. That is, believing the other party, who is liable for the compensation, was capable of consenting to the marriage.

Generally, divorce and annulment proceedings follow the same court processes (Iowa Code § 598.28),, including residency requirements (one year, at least), filing/service procedures, the court of filing/hearing, waiting periods (90 days), and more.

Is an Annulment Cheaper Than Divorce In Iowa?

An annulment is not cheaper than a divorce in Iowa. Typically, a case will cost more and take up more time if it is contested, or if certain grounds must be established in court before a decree can be issued. It may be advisable to file for a divorce at once if it will be difficult to obtain an annulment decree, as these decrees are rarely granted. To speed up the legal process, spouses can agree on the terms of their divorces before filing a petition in court.

What is an Uncontested Divorce in Iowa?

Spouses who completely agree on the conditions of their divorce, including spousal support, custody, assets division, and visitation, may file for divorce jointly in Iowa. This legal process is called an uncontested divorce and it is usually faster and less costly than a contested divorce.

Where to Get an Uncontested Divorce Form in Iowa

Iowa Court Rules, Chapter 17, contains the legal forms to prepare for a joint (uncontested) divorce in the State. Also, these forms can be downloaded from the Iowa Judiciary’s Court Forms page. As the forms to file differ if the spouses have minor/dependent adult children, the Judicial Branch also provides guides to assist with the filing, response, and final hearing process:

  • Guide for a divorce (children), and
  • Guide for divorce (no minor/dependent adult children)

Among forms that litigants will be required to prepare and submit are the Agreed Parenting Plan (Form 229) and Settlement Agreement (Form 228). Typically, these forms are filed electronically through the Iowa eFile system (User Guide).. Persons experiencing difficulties with the legal guides and eFile platform are advised to consult an experienced attorney regarding the filing procedures of uncontested divorces.

Uncontested divorce records are accessible to Iowans under the Iowa Public Records Law, except records that are confidential by statute, court rule, or court order. Documents or information that may be restricted from public viewing or copying are usually of sensitive nature and include financial information such as social security numbers and bank account numbers, and the personal information of minors.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How Do I Get a Copy of my Divorce Decree in Iowa?

The subject of a record may visit the Clerk of District Court’s office in the county where the divorce case was concluded to obtain a divorce decree copy. In-person record requests must be made during normal business hours. Possibly, requesters may be able to make requests by mail. However, this feature may not vary across the counties. The Clerk may be contacted for more information regarding request methods and copy fees using the Court Directory. Typically, for the Clerk to be able to find a record, a requester will be required to provide record details such as the complete names of parties involved, their lawyers, the filing date, case number., and divorce date/place

Divorce and marriage records may be available through government sources and organizations, though their availability cannot be guaranteed. This is also true of their availability through third-party websites and companies, as these organizations are not government-sponsored and record availability may vary further. Finally, marriage and divorce records are considered extremely private due to the information they contain, and are often sealed. Bearing these factors in mind, record availability for these types of records cannot be guaranteed.

How Do I Get an Iowa Divorce Decree Online?

The Iowa Courts maintain a statewide public access system to search and view the non-confidential dissolution of marriage records of the District Courts. However, records obtainable on this website are limited. Therefore, interested persons may visit the public access terminals located at the courthouses or request directly from the Clerk of Court’s office for divorce decrees.

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