Iowa Custody Laws

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Iowa custody laws exist to ensure that children caught in the middle of a child custody battle are protected and that both parents are able to sustain a meaningful relationship with the child. If you're getting ready to head to court in "the Hawkeye State," here's what you need to know about Iowa custody laws:

Get to Know Iowa's Custody Laws

The state of Iowa uses several criteria to determine child custody. First and foremost, family courts in Iowa look to establish the best interests of the child. This means that they make custody decisions based on what is best for the child's well-being in the long term. Sometimes this means going against what one or both parents want or establishing a custody arrangement that meets the child's needs, but may not be 100% convenient for the parents. As you prepare for your first custody hearing, keep in mind that you may not get everything you're asking for because the court's focus is on your child's needs, not yours.

Iowa Custody Laws & the 'Best Interests of the Child' Standard

While Iowa custody laws specify that the courts must make decisions based on the best interests of the child, the legal terminology they use can be confusing. When evaluating what would best for your child, the court considers a number of factors, such as: 

  • Your ability to communicate with your ex (and vice versa) about your child's needs.
  • Your willingness to encourage a healthy relationship between your child and your ex (and vice versa).
  • How far apart the two of you live currently.
  • What your family's residential schedule has been up to this point.
  • Any history of domestic violence.
  • If your child is deemed old enough, the court may also consider his or her wishes.

Joint Custody in Iowa

It's also important to know that the state of Iowa places a high priority on ensuring the involvement of both parents. When possible, the court will award joint legal custody and/or joint physical custody. In the court's view, the best possible custody arrangement is one that allows your child to maintain continuous physical and emotional contact with both parents. Note that there have been cases where one parent interferes with the other parent's visitation rights, only to have the court turnaround and grant the other parent full custody as a result. Therefore, even if you'd prefer sole custody, it's essential that you demonstrate to the court your willingness to work with your ex to support your child's best interests.

Domestic Violence and Child Custody in Iowa

While the courts in Iowa do lean toward joint custody or an arrangement that allows generous visitation, there are situations where the court will award sole custody to one parent. For example, if either parent has been convicted of domestic violence, the court will usually presume that he or she should not be awarded joint custody. In some cases, the court will require one or both parents to participate in mediation or parenting classes as part of the custody ruling.

Modifying Your Custody Arrangement in Iowa

If things don't go your way the first time around, remember that you can request a modification. Iowa courts are generally reluctant to modify a child custody determination unless the court determines:

  • That there's a history of domestic violence or abuse, or
  • Direct physical or severe emotional harm will occur to the child, other children, or a parent if custody is not modified

In some cases, the court may require parents to participate in mediation in order to resolve outstanding custody issues in lieu of ordering a modification of custody. 

For more information about child custody in Iowa, speak with a qualified attorney in your area or refer to the Iowa Code to learn more about the state's custody laws.