• Tom Fowler

Iowa Custody Laws

In Iowa, laws regarding custody consider many details to ensure children have the opportunity to healthily develop. For example, the child's age, the parent's will to pay child support, and much more is taken into consideration. Parents and interested parties should know as much information as possible on the subject, especially if they are going through a similar process, which is something the article addresses.



Types of Child Custody in Iowa


Types of Child Custody in Iowa


People who have children under the age of 18 may have many questions about their divorce process, especially regarding the legal custody of their children.


In Iowa, there are different types of custody someone might get after they divorce their ex-spouse. Depending on the court, people could have different degrees of responsibility for what happens to their children. The various kinds of child custody are the following:


  • Joint legal custody

  • Sole legal

  • Primary physical care

  • Joint physical

  • Split physical


In many cases, people worry about the future with their children if they have to follow a primary custody agreement. They believe it means their status as parents is reduced, but that is not the case. When both spouses share legal custody, they have to continue taking part in the decision-making process regarding their children.


According to child custody laws in Iowa, the court must consider specific factors to decide the future of the child and their parents.


The court's duty is to ensure the final decision always keeps at heart the best interests of the child, which might be difficult for some couples. Thus, according to the Iowa code section 598.41, the court has to consider the next factors in all cases:


  • If each parent could be a suitable custodian for the child

  • Whether or not the child's developmental, emotional, and psychological needs would suffer from lack of contact with both parents

  • If the parents can communicate with each other regarding the child's needs

  • Have the parents cared about the minor child since they separated?

  • Whether or not each parent can support the other's relationship with the child

  • The minor child is also able to express their wishes and interests, and the Iowa courts must consider them as important, depending on the child's maturity and age

  • If the parents agree to joint custody, or if they are against it

  • Are the parents geographically close to each other, or are they far away?

  • Whether or not the custody arrangement might represent a danger to the child due to unsupervised or unrestricted visitation

  • If there is a history of domestic abuse


People can expect a lot of things from child custody in Iowa since there are many laws involved. At the same time, Iowa courts often weigh each factor before choosing which type of custody is the best one for the case.


In the end, Iowa child custody laws are meant to protect the interest of the child, especially in cases with a history of domestic abuse or when the parents are proven to be unable to take care of their children.


How Custody Works in Iowa


When spouses divorce, they might have to go through a legal process to determine the custody arrangement they may get regarding their children. In Iowa, the court awards joint custody in many cases since it allows both parents to influence the decisions over the child's life. However, that is not the only type of custody available - the following kinds are also possibilities:


Legal Custody

Legal custody refers to a type of custody where both parents are responsible for the legal rights and responsibilities of the child.


According to Iowa child custody laws, legal custody includes all decision-making that could affect the child's legal status, education, medical care, extracurricular activities, and religious instruction (Iowa code section 598.41).


Furthermore, the court order must include the type of legal custody the parents have, which directly influences the physical custody of the child. It can be given to one parent (leaving one noncustodial parent behind), or it can be shared, and it all depends on the circumstances surrounding the case.


Joint Legal Custody

The most frequent type of custody awarded by court order is joint legal custody, in which parents agree to have equal custodial rights. Therefore, joint legal custody means both parents have the same right over the legal decisions regarding the child.


Most of the time, a court order might award parents with this type of custody when they don't find convincing evidence that shows joint legal custody is not possible. The court ensures the child's best interest, and they make sure they can see both parents and have relationships with both of them without any issue.


Since there is no noncustodial parent in the picture, both parents can take care of the child's religious instruction, medical care, and overall guarantee the child lives happily and develops correctly.


Sole Legal Custody

In Iowa, it is very hard for a parent to get sole legal custody. Joint custody is much more common unless there's a history of domestic abuse since the court often wants to allow children to have a relationship with both parents if the parents themselves are willing to take equal amounts of responsibility for the child's upbringing.


Sole legal custody means only one parent has the right to take part in all legal decisions involving the child. However, it is seldom granted, unless there is evidence that proves domestic abuse exists.


With sole custody, one parent is completely left out of making legal choices regarding the child, but the court only awards it after a long process of investigation. Awarding custody is immensely important for a child's life, which is why the Iowa law protects the best interests of each kid, especially if there are suspicions of abuse.


Unfortunately, in Iowa, domestic abuse exists. However, it is not easy to prove. One parent might get sole legal custody if the court can demonstrate the following factors:


  1. Proven commencement of actions of domestic assault

  2. A protective order has been issued before

  3. One parent has been held for breaching the protective order

  4. There was a peace offering responding to allegations of domestic abuse

  5. One parent has been convinced of abuse or assault before

Moreover, a court might award sole legal custody if there is convincing evidence that joint custody does not include the best interest when it comes to the future of the child. If one of the parents suffered from depression or substance abuse, for example, the court might decide for them to be the non-custodial parent as they might be of danger for the child and themselves.


Consequently, Iowa greatly favors joint legal custody unless there's alleged domestic abuse or proven domestic abuse assault, in which case the court might grant sole legal custody to one of the parents while the other parent does not have anything to say on the matter.


Physical Custody

Physical custody is often known as physical care instead, which is something very specific according to Iowa law. The judge may grant one of three options: they could decide primary physical care belongs to one of the parents, they could award joint physical care to both of them, or they may choose split physical care. The following are the differences between all three cases:


Primary Physical Care

It occurs when the child lives with one parent only, while the other parent has visitation rights and can sustain a relationship with them. Even if the adults get joint legal custody, the child must live with only one of them.


Joint Physical Care

With joint physical care, the child can live with both of their parents at different times. Thus, they don't need to live with one of them only.


Split Physical Care

If parents get split physical care, then each of them has custody of one of their children. In Iowa, it is very rare to witness courts granting this type of care, as judges do not like to separate siblings.

The main factor courts use to determine the type of physical custody parents might get is solely the interests of the child.


Most judges don't want to split physical custody, lest it represents a negative outcome for the child's psychological and emotional needs. Instead, legal experts want to make sure each child spends enough time with both of their parents and siblings, which is why they often grant joint custody.


50-50 Custody

In many cases, divorced couples want to share the care for their children. When parents get joint custody or 50-50 custody, that is completely possible since they have the same parenting time with the child, and both have custody and visitation rights.


Thus, with 50-50 custody, one parent does not spend all the time with their children. Instead, both of them work together and share parenting time, making sure the child's best interest always comes first.


Overall, a judge may agree to joint custody if they notice both parents are willing to spend a roughly equal amount of time with the child, for example, when it comes to spending parenting time, helping the child with their responsibilities, provide routine care, and so on.


There are no assumptions when it comes to joint custody in Iowa, but if one parent asks for sole physical custody, then the court might reconsider and choose not to grant joint custody. Joint physical care arrangements are possible when legal experts consider one or more of the following circumstances:


  • There is historical evidence that caregivers have worked together in the child's upbringing

  • Parents can communicate and show respect for each other

  • There is a small degree of conflict between the parent, or it is nonexistent

  • Parents have similar views when it comes to the routines and cares they want for their child


Parenting schedules are different for each family when the court decides to award joint physical care. Some of the most common agreements are the next ones:


  • Splitting weeks in half: one parent may spend half a week with their child, while the other can spend the second half with them.

  • Two, two, three: the child stays with one parent for two nights, then with the other parent for two nights, and then the last three nights of the week, they alternate.

  • Alternating weeks: children spend one week with one parent and the next with the other parent. Caregivers can also choose to alternate every two weeks.

Even though some parents may want to share joint legal custody, 50-50 agreements don't work for all families. It completely depends on the case.


Sometimes, the child might not adjust correctly to going back and forth between their parents when they get joint physical custody. One parent may also spend more time with their children in general, and even be more involved in the legal decisions regarding them, thus resulting in changing the court's agreement. In those cases, families could ask the judge to grant primary physical care, proving they have their child's best interest at heart at all times.


Primary Physical Custody

One of the parents gets to be the primary caretaker of the child when they get primary physical custody. If that occurs, the other parent does not get to participate in the child's day-to-day routine care and decisions, since that is the responsibility of the main caregiver.


The court's main concern is to always ensure the child's best interest, which is why the custody arrangement must benefit their development and routines. Therefore, awarding custody is often a complicated process, which is why parents should hire an experienced family law attorney to provide them with legal advice - Tom Fowler Law experts can help parents through the process and make sure they get the best results.


Primary physical care arrangements often take one main factor into account: the child's mental and physical health. In other words, judges often do not consider the parents' sex or geographical location as the most important aspects of the case. On the contrary, the interest of the child must get the spotlight as their future lives depend on the court's decisions.


When a court grants a primary physical care arrangement, it meant the legal experts made sure, without a reasonable doubt, that the main caregiver has the interest of the child as their sole goal. At the same time, judges may consider the parents' characteristics, their interest in being a part of their children's lives, the nature of the environment each party proposes, and the child's relationship with them.


Furthermore, the court might consider who has been the primary caretaker up to that moment. It doesn't necessarily mean they have the best interest with regards to the other parent, but they have shown evidence of caring for their child so far, which is important when it comes to physical care.


If a parent is to get primary physical custody instead of joint custody along with the other parent, the court's decision might depend on the child's well-being on a long-term basis. Thus, they might want to choose the parent who can effectively take care of the child's needs for an extended period. Judges may also consider other factors, such as the following: parental alienation, interference with noncustodial rights of the other parent, domestic abuse, assault, failure to pay child support, the ability of the parent to be a good role model for their child, moral misconduct, the child's preference, criminal records, and whether or not the parents asked for joint custody.


Split Care

When parents get split physical care arrangements, each of them must take physical care of at least one child, according to Iowa child custody law.


Even though it is an option, split care is the least favorite among custody arrangements since judges are generally against separating siblings, even if they are half-siblings. Consequently, most courts might prefer parents to get joint legal custody and care of their children.



How to Change Child Custody


How to Change Child Custody


Some people believe they are completely tied to child support and the court's decisions regarding custody, but that is not the case. Parents have a right to pledge to change the arrangements, and the process can be much easier if they get a family law attorney to provide them with legal advice, such as the Des Moines personal injury claims experts at Tom Fowler Law.


Final Thoughts


Going through a divorce might be a very complicated situation for parents, especially if there are children. The presence of domestic violence, domestic abuse assault action commencement, or similar issues can only make matters more challenging, which is why professionals can help interested parties through the process.


When parents want to ensure they get the best outcomes out of the process, they should keep in mind that responsibility is vital, especially to prove to the court they are willing to handle child support even if they are a non custodial parent.


Sometimes, convenient agreements are possible, but if there is convincing evidence that joint custody is not possible, other more complicated results might occur. Parents should be prepared for that as well. They should also make sure they have the right experts by their side to help them with their case.


Talk to a professional family lawyer for more legal questions regarding custody after a divorce or other topics like abortion laws or common law marriage.

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