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How to File For Divorce in Iowa

The dissolution of marriage in Iowa must follow a formal litigation process, where the judiciary grants both parties relief from the contractual binding of marriage. At 7.1 per 1000 residents in 2018, the divorce rate in Iowa is near the national rate of 7.7 per 1000 women, according to the United States Census Bureau. Generally, once the litigants meet state requirements, Iowa courts finalize divorces within thirty days, but divorce may take six to twelve months if there are complex issues to resolve.   

Do I need a Reason for Divorce in Iowa?

No. Iowa is a no-fault divorce state, so litigants do not have to list a reason for the petition in the complaint or prove a basis for the divorce. Intending divorcees make such no-fault filings on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. Nevertheless, if a litigant wished to file for a fault divorce, the allegation must be established by competent evidence (Section 598.5 & Section 598.17 of the Iowa Code).

Why do I need a Divorce Lawyer?

The expertise that a lawyer provides during a divorce is from years of legal training and courtroom practices. As divorce proceedings, especially fault-based divorces, tend to be adversarial, the need for a lawyer cannot be understated. The lawyer understands the nuances of filing for divorce and prepares for tactics that the respondent may use to gain a financial or custodial advantage. Many competent lawyers in Iowa offer free consultations with no obligations to retain the attorney. Do not act on experiential advice from people who have gone through divorces without consulting an attorney at least.

How do I Get Started in a Divorce in Iowa?

Before initiating a divorce suit in Iowa, one of the spouses must be resident in Iowa for at least one year before the date of filing (Section 598.5).. Once the petitioner meets this residency requirement, he/she may file for divorce viz:

  • Submitting a petition: The first step in starting a divorce is to prepare a petition and fill out divorce forms at the office of the Clerk of Courts. Then, the petitioner must pay the filing fees and submit the divorce forms. The forms to fill in a divorce depend on several factors such as whether the divorce is fault-based or there are children involved.
  • Serving the defendant: Upon submitting a divorce petition, serve the defendant with the divorce papers filed. The service of process is done by the sheriff, a private process server, or an indifferent party. The server will provide the petitioner and the court with proof of service after completing the process. A mandatory ninety-day waiting period applies after serving the defendant.
  • Mediation: Mediation is a court-ordered process for parties to work out disputes during the waiting period.
  • Scheduling a hearing date: If mediation was successful and there are no children involved, no court appearance is necessary before the judge grants the divorce. If there are children involved, one court appearance will be necessary. For complicated divorce filings, the parties may need to schedule multiple hearing dates. To schedule a hearing date, visit the office of the clerk or contact the clerk via telephone if the court allows scheduling over the phone.

How to File for Divorce in Iowa without a Lawyer?

Self-represented plaintiffs also go through the above stages in a divorce filing. The judiciary maintains a self-help page for litigants going pro se. On the page, self-represented litigants will see answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs), the forms to file in a divorce, how to serve, and guides for filling out forms depending on the nature of the divorce.

How Does Iowa Divorce Mediation Work?

Divorce mediation is a confidential dispute resolution process for spouses to reach a voluntary agreement on disputes (Section 679C.102 & Section 679C.108).. There are several advantages to mediation. For one, the process is more flexible since it eschews the formal adversarial atmosphere in the courtroom. Besides, the parties can avoid a drawn-out divorce and save legal fees with mediation. Although parties reach an agreement with the help of a skilled neutral mediator, the mediation agreement is not legally binding before the judge issues a verdict. Thus, the parties can request a review at any time pending final adjudication.

How Long After Mediation is Divorce Final in Iowa?

It depends. The mediation of uncomplicated divorces is over in a few sessions spanning a few days. Conversely, the mediation of complicated divorces takes several weeks. If the parties agree on all matters, the judge will issue a decree after reviewing the agreement; the parties do not have to appear in court. If mediation fails or there are still disputes, the case goes to a hearing on a scheduled date.

Are Divorce Records Public in Iowa?

Yes, divorce records are public documents under the Iowa Public Records Law. However, the court may restrict access to sensitive, confidential, or potentially damning documents upon request from the divorcees. If sealed, only authorized entities can access the divorce records. Other requesters must obtain a court order to inspect specific documents in a divorce record. Even at that, the record custodian may redact information deemed sensitive, confidential, or potentially injurious to the divorcees.

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 the person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent of 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 Iowa Divorce Records?

Records of divorces are available at the office of the clerk in the county where the case was filed. Use the court directory to find the address and contact information of courts in Iowa counties. In-person requests during business hours are available in all counties. However, mail and online availability of divorce records vary from county to county. All requesters must provide the necessary details to help court staff perform a search. These include the name of the parties, their attorneys, date of filing or adjudication, case number, and the name of the presiding judge.

Meanwhile, the judiciary has a central repository for accessing court records—including divorce records—in the state. The database pools case information from all district courts in Iowa and makes court records accessible to the public. A searcher does not have to create an account to use the search tool. One only needs to use a search parameter to query the database. While the online database is free and suffices for most needs, the scope of obtainable information is limited. A formal request to the court where the case was filed is necessary to obtain detailed records. Bear in mind that record custodians charge a reasonable fee for searching and reproducing divorce records. The requester must pay these fees via the payment method accepted by the court, i.e., check, money order, or card. 

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