Divorce in Iowa Without an Attorney

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid LSC Funded


Many people worry about the cost of hiring a lawyer when deciding whether to get divorced in Iowa. The Iowa Supreme Court developed forms for people who cannot afford an attorney or do not want to hire one to get divorced.

Don’t I get an attorney if I can’t afford one?

No. Unlike when a person is a defendant in a criminal case, no one is entitled to an attorney in a divorce case. A person must hire an attorney if they want legal representation.

How much do attorneys cost?

It depends. Attorneys typically charge by the hour. It can cost a lot of money, especially when the spouses will not agree on a lot of the issues. Most attorneys will also want you to pay a retainer. This is a lump sum of money you pay up front.  When you pay a retainer, the attorney will be paid out of that money as the work is done, instead of sending you the bill.  If there is money left in your retainer at the end of the case, that money is returned to you. If the retainer is used up before the case is over, then the attorney will send you a bill each month for the work he or she did on your case. 

Some attorneys will take a divorce case for a specific amount of money, called a “flat fee.” This is usually done if the divorce is very simple or if the parties are already in agreement on all the issues. 

Many attorneys will meet with you about your case for free or for a small fee and will discuss their rate with you at that time.

Do I have to have an attorney to get divorced?

Not necessarily. Hiring an attorney may not be an option or necessary for everyone going through a divorce. Sometimes people getting divorced cannot afford an attorney. Sometimes spouses reach an agreement on all the issues and do not want to spend money on an attorney.

What can I do if I do not want or need an attorney?

The Iowa Supreme Court made forms for people who cannot afford an attorney or want to represent themselves in a divorce case. When people choose to use these forms, and represent themselves, it is called appearing “self-help,” or without an attorney.  The forms are often referred to as “self-help forms,” because they are used by individuals representing themselves.

Who can use the self-help forms?

The self-help forms can be used by one or both parties in a divorce. There are two sets of forms: one for those getting divorced and do not have children together and one for those getting divorced but do have children together.

Where can I get the self-help forms?

The forms and a guide on how to use the forms are available on the Iowa Courts website at

Anyone using the self-help forms should read the Guide to Representing Yourself provided on the Iowa Supreme Court website before using the forms. This guide explains what each form is, how to use it, and when to file it. Each set of self-help family law forms has a guide to follow for those forms.

Are there reasons not to use the self-help forms?

Divorces can be complicated. The forms do not work for all situations. The self-help forms may not help with an issue you have. It also may not be in your best interest to use the forms if you and your spouse will disagree about many issues in the divorce. If you do not have a lawyer, your rights may not be addressed or protected in the final divorce decree. It can be very hard and cost more money to change divorce paperwork after the divorce decree is final.

When should I not use the self-help forms?

You may want to consider consulting with an attorney if:

  • You have questions about the self-help forms
  • Either of you own real estate and cannot agree on who should get it
  • You do not agree about how to divide your property
  • You do not agree about which parent your children should live with
  • One party thinks the other party owes him or her money  

Can I use the self-help forms for a custody case?

Unfortunately, there are not forms for individuals wanting to start a custody case yet, but the Iowa Supreme Court is in the process of developing the forms. They should be available for use soon.

Can Iowa Legal Aid help me? 

If you think you may need an attorney, are a victim of domestic abuse and are low-income, Iowa Legal Aid may be able to help in a divorce case.  Some Iowa Legal Aid offices also have Self-help Clinics where clients can come in and meet with volunteer attorneys to get help filling out the self-help forms.  

  • Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 
    • To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:call 800-532-1275. 
    • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161 or 
    • apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice. 
Last Review and Update: Oct 28, 2016

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