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How to File for an Uncontested Divorce in Iowa

Uncontested divorce is commonly known as a simplified version of the standard divorce process. When most people think of a divorce lawsuit, they are normally thinking of contested divorce. This may be for a number of reasons, such as television drama or news headlines, but most people do not realize how common uncontested divorce actually is. Most spouses ultimately agree on the issues involved in the divorce and can file for quicker and less expensive uncontested divorces.

This article will explain the nature of an uncontested divorce and Iowa uncontested divorce law. If you still have any questions after reading this article or would like to file for an uncontested divorce, you should consult with an experienced divorce attorney.

TIP: Click here for the complete guide to filing for uncontested divorce.

Uncontested Divorce in Iowa Defined

Unlike many states, Iowa does not have a separate divorce process for uncontested divorces. Instead, spouses who are seeking an uncontested divorce must file for divorce normally. At a later time, however, the divorce proceeding can become categorized as an uncontested divorce if the spouses agree on how the case should ultimately be resolved.

Because of the structure of Iowa law, the key aspect of an uncontested divorce is agreement between the spouses. If the spouses agree on all of the issues that are pending in the divorce before the court, the spouses can be granted a divorce much more quickly than in other cases.

Requirements for Seeking a Iowa Uncontested Divorce

To file for uncontested divorce in Iowa, the filing spouses must meet certain requirements. Any questions about these requirements can be answered by an experienced Iowa divorce attorney or family lawyer.

First, Iowa spouses seeking a divorce must meet the Iowa state divorce residency requirements. By law, no couple can get a divorce under Iowa law unless at least one of the spouses has resided within the state of Iowa for at least one year.

Next, the spouses must demonstrate that they meet the grounds for filing for a divorce. Grounds simply refer to a reason to allow divorce. Iowa is a no-fault divorce state. Under Iowa law, couples seeking a divorce must allege that there was irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.  Because Iowa is a no-fault divorce state, Iowa courts do not care why the marriage broke down; the court only examines whether the marriage is in fact broken and whether there is a possibility of reconciliation.  

Finally, the spouses will need to agree on the terms of the divorce. Under Iowa law, this is accomplished by a divorce settlement. In general, spouses will want to create a legally-binding settlement agreement that resolves all of the potentially contested issuesin the divorce so that a judge does not have to rule on them. The court will only review the terms of the agreement to make sure that it is fair.

In general, a completed settlement agreement should address all of the following issues:

  • Division of the property the couples shared (this would include the marital residence, vehicles, and pets);
  • Division of any debt obligations between the couple jointly;
  • The effect of any tax consequences of the divorce;
  • Spousal support (also known as alimony or spousal maintenance);
  • Payment of attorneys’ fees and costs; and
  • If applicable, child custody, visitation and parenting plans, and child support.

On Spousal Support and Settlement Agreements

When spouses sit down to discuss the terms of their divorce, it is often beneficial for the spouses to sign a legally-binding settlement agreement. A settlement agreement is NOT a formal divorce. A settlement agreement is a contract between spouses that lays out their agreement and terms of their separation. A fully completed settlement agreement can serve as the basis for an uncontested divorce, and may be helpful in filling out the required divorce paperwork. Prior to signing any settlement agreement (or any contract with your spouse), you should have an experienced attorney review the terms of the contract for you.   

The Process for Filing for an Uncontested Divorce in Iowa

Once you and your spouse have decided to file for an uncontested divorce, the general flow of the process is as follows:

  1. This step is optional, but you should begin by consulting a family law attorney who can either answer any questions that you may have, or who can help you file your divorce paperwork properly.
  2. For spouses seeking a divorce without the assistance of an attorney, the first step will be to acquire and fill out the required divorce paperwork. Free divorce forms are available for use in any court in the state on Iowa’s Judicial Branch website.
  3. Next, you and your spouse should decide on the terms of your divorce and create a legally-binding settlement agreement signed by both spouses. This will ensure that your divorce remains uncontested and will move more quickly through the Iowa court system.
  4. You must then determine which court is the proper court for filing for divorce. You and your spouse should file in the district court in which either party resides.
  5. File the petition for dissolution of marriage, coversheet for petition for dissolution of marriage, confidential information form, and original notice for personal service with the proper court. You must also pay the court filing fee (if you cannot immediately pay the filing fee, the court may allow you to postpone payment).
  6. Serve your spouse with the divorce paperwork within 90 days by handing the divorce paperwork to him or her. The responding spouse should then file an answer that admits the allegations of the petition for dissolution of marriage and agrees to the settlement agreement.
  7. If there are children involved, Iowa law requires divorcing parents to take an educational parenting course on the effect of divorce on children within forty five days of the divorce paperwork being filed.
  8. Wait! Iowa has a ninety-day waiting period before a judge will hear your divorce petition. During this 90 day period, schedule a date you’re your final hearing with the court, complete the required financial affidavits, parenting plan, and make any last-minute changes to your settlement agreement.
  9. At the final hearing, the judge will ask both spouses questions about the settlement agreement and parenting plan. If the judge approves of the settlement, he will sign the final decree of dissolution.
  10. One final item on the to-do list. The filing spouse must file a report of dissolution with the court.

Note: This article is not legal advice. Please consult a lawyer for your specific situation.

Resources:

  1.  Iowa Code § 598.8.
  2.  Divorce/Family Law Forms, IOWA JUDICIAL BRANCH.
  3.  Iowa Code § 598.2.