Custody Order for Parents with Open CINA Cases

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid


Parents involved in open Child in Need of Assistance (CINA) cases have a way to get a court to order permanent custody, physical care, and visitation in a new or existing custody case. The law provides an option for some parents who cannot afford to get or modify a custody order, but need a currrent permanent custody order in place. Below is more information on these options for parents with open CINA cases.

What is a CINA case?

A county attorney starts a CINA case when there are concerns about a child’s safety and well-being when the child is with his or her parents. The State of Iowa and the parents of the child are parties to the case. To make sure the child is safe, a judge in the juvenile court makes decisions about child custody, physical care, and visitation as well as services for the children and parents that must be made available while a CINA case is open. A CINA case is usually open for a limited time.

What if a parent needs a permanent custody order?

The juvenile court can enter a custody order, and transfer the power to make decisions about the child involved to the district court. The juvenile court would hold a hearing and order custody, physical care, and visitation. Then the case is transferred to the district court. These orders are called “bridge orders.”

How do I know if I can get a bridge order in my case?

The CINA case has to be at a certain point for the parents to get a bridge order. To get a bridge order, the case must have all of the following:

  • The child must be identified as a child in need of assistance;
  • A dispositional order must be in place, meaning that the juvenile court has made decisions about custody and care of the child;
  • The child’s father has been legally determined to be the child’s father;
  • The child is placed safely with a parent;
  • The juvenile court determined that the CINA case can close after there is an order for custody, physical care, and visitation; and
  • A parent in the case qualified for court-appointed counsel in the CINA case.

How do I ask the court for a bridge order?

A parent or the county attorney must ask the juvenile court judge for a bridge order. A juvenile court judge can also suggest a bridge order be put in place. Before an order can be put in place, a judge has to allow all of the parties be heard on whether or not the case should have a bridge order.

What can the bridge order decide?

Bridge orders can only address certain things. Bridge orders can address:

  • Custody, or how the parents make important decisions about the child;
  • Physical care, or which parent has the child live with that parent most of the time; and
  • Visitation, or when the parent who the child does not live with gets to spend time with the child

Bridge orders will not:

  • Grant a divorce
  • Disestablish paternity
  • Establish child support
  • Make orders concerning property or debt division
  • Enter permanent protective orders

How much does a bridge order cost?

When a parent of a child qualifies for a bridge order, the parent will not be responsible for filing fees or court costs for the order.

Can I change the bridge order after the CINA closes?

A parent can try to change the bridge order after the CINA case closes. In a typical divorce or custody case, a parent has to show there has been a big change since the order was issued to change the original order. That is not always the case with some bridge orders.

Bridge orders that modify existing district court custody orders require a big change if a parent wants to change that order.

Bridge orders that set up the first permanent custody order for a child are treated differently. If a parent tries to change the order within one year from the date the bridge order was put in place, the parent trying to change the order only needs to show that changes are in the best interest of the child. The parents of the child will also not be charged more filing fees or court costs if the request to change the order is made within a year.

What if it has been more than one year since the bridge order setting up the first permanent custody order was put in place?

If a parent tries to change the bridge order more than one year after it was put in place, the parent must show that there has been a big change in circumstances since the order was issued. The judge will only change the order if the judge finds there has been a significant change. Any changes the judge makes will be what the judge finds is in the best interest of the child. The parties will have to pay the associated fees and costs if it has been more than one year since the bridge order was issued.

  • 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: Jun 23, 2023
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