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Basics of Child Custody in Iowa

Knowing What to Expect

When a marriage ends via a divorce, a couple must figure out how to share time with their children. Conversations revolving around child custody, however, can be tense and filled with heated emotions. It can be common for custody disputes to involve some form of angry discussions and arguments.

Knowing how custody laws work in Iowa can better prepare you for your case. Here are some of the basics tenets of Iowa custody laws you should know.

Types of Custody in Iowa

Iowa law breaks child custody into two primary types: legal custody and physical care. Physical care refers to the right to maintain a home and living routine for a child. The most common physical care scenario involves one parent being awarded primary physical care, giving them the right to have the child live with them, and the other parent maintaining some form of visitation. While there can be situations where both parents share physical care, Iowa courts tend to disfavor this option.

Legal custody gives parents the right to make decisions on behalf of a child. These decisions often include those related to medical care, education, and religious affiliation. Iowa courts tend to award both parents legal custody, although there are scenarios that would allow only one parent to receive legal custody.

Within each of these two categories exist both joint and sole custody. As their names imply, these types of custody reflect if one or both parents holds custody. As mentioned above, Iowa courts prefer to award joint legal custody and sole physical care, but parents can argue otherwise provided that they can prove with clear and convincing evidence that anything else would go against a child’s best interests.

Determining Child Custody

When the courts determine custody awards, Iowa law does not provide specific factors for such decisions. Judges have often considered a number of external factors, including the following:

  • The age, physical, and mental health of each child.

  • The maturity level of the child.

  • The child’s mental, emotional, educational, social, and physical needs.

  • The ability of each parent to meet said needs.

  • The character, stability, and mental and physical wellbeing of each parent.

  • The relationship between a child and any siblings.

  • The relationship between a child and both parents.

  • The overall emotional stability of each parent.

Above all other factors, though, a custody determination is made based upon the best interest of a child standard. A judge making custody decisions must hold to this standard and award custody based on which parent can ultimately meet a child’s needs and provide for their best interests.

Parental Visitation

Iowa laws place heavy importance on a child’s need to maintain a relationship with both parents. For this reason, it is common for a parent without sole physical care to be given visitation (referred to as “parenting time” in Iowa). Parents can work out parenting time arrangements with the help of their attorneys, but if they are unable to come to an agreement, then a judge will determine parenting time for them.

A typical parenting time schedule can include alternating weekends and holidays, an extended time during summer break, and other days as deemed necessary. A parenting time order can, however, include other times if parents can agree to such an arrangement.

Custody Order Modifications

There may be a time when a current custody order no longer meets a child’s best interests. If such a case arises, it may be time to seek a modification to that order. When you file for a modification, you must be able to prove that a change to the custody order will better meet a child’s best interests and that there has been a substantial change in material circumstances that warrants the change.

Having an Iowa Custody Attorney

In any custody case, whether part of a divorce or a separate custody issue, it is important to have a child custody attorney who understands Iowa’s laws and can help you navigate the process. At Family Law Solutions of Iowa, we work exclusively with family law matters, including custody. We know these matters can be sensitive and frustrating, which is why we are here to help you.


To set up a consultation with one of our custody attorneys, call us at (515) 305-3474 or visit us online.

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