Summary of Iowa Divorce Law


What should I know about divorce in Iowa?

  • It is not hard to get a divorce, it does take time.
  • You must plan and make decisions before you begin a divorce.
  • Iowa is a "no-fault" state. This means you do not have to prove your spouse caused your marriage to fail.
  • Your spouse does not have to prove you caused your marriage to fail.
  • The Court will let you get a divorce if you, or your spouse, say the marriage is broken and cannot be mended.

How long must I live in Iowa before I can file for a divorce?

  • You must live in Iowa for one year before you can file a divorce.
  • If your spouse lives in Iowa, you may be able to file now.

What is "common law" marriage?

  • This means a couple may be married even if they did not have a wedding with a marriage license. Instead of a license and a ceremony, it may be that:
    • The couple told people they are married (and they are not married to anyone else)
    • They live together as spouses
    • They share a last name
    • They have joint bank accounts

(Common law marriage information).

Can I file a divorce without a lawyer?

  • It is not easy to file a divorce on your own. There are a lot of rules you must follow.
  • You do not have to use a lawyer. You can file a divorce without a lawyer.
  • A lawyer can help you understand what to do.
  • A lawyer can tell you your rights.
  • Pro Se or Self Represented Litigant are the terms used to mean a person is filing by themselves.
  • The Iowa Judicial Branch has free forms you must use to file a divorce if you do not have a lawyer. Free Court Forms

When do I Need to Have a Lawyer?

You should talk to a lawyer when:

  • There are children from this marriage
  • Either of you own real estate
  • You don't agree about how to divide what you own
  • One spouse thinks they may be entitled to support from the other spouse.
  • There is any dispute
  • There is a lot of property or money including a pension

How can I start a divorce?

  • You must fill out a form called a petition.
    • You must give the court information about you, your spouse and your marriage
    • The petition tells the Court what you want to do.
  • You file a copy of the petition in the county Court.
  • You must "serve" (give a copy) the petition to your spouse.
    • There are rules you must follow to serve the petition and other legal documents in a divorce case.

What if I do not know where my spouse is?

  • First you have the sheriff serve (give a copy) the papers to your spouse.
  • If the sheriff cannot find your spouse, then you try to mail the papers to your spouse at the most recent address you have.
    • Your spouse must sign and return the form you send.
    • Certified mail alone is not enough.
  • If you can't find your spouse, you can publish a notice in the newspaper.
    • This must be a legal notice in the newspaper.
  • You may need to ask the Court for permission to publish a notice in the newspaper.

How Much Does it Cost to Get a Divorce?

  • You must pay a fee to the Clerk of Court when the divorce Petition is filed. This fee is usually $265.
    You must pay a fee to the Sheriff if the Sheriff must give copies of the papers to your spouse. This fee is usually $40-50.
  • If you are unable to pay the fees, you apply to ask the Court to let you file without paying the fees first.
    • When you apply to file without paying the fees, you must provide information about your income and expenses.
  • The fee will still be charged to one of the parties at the end of the divorce.
  • Many lawyers want money before they will start a divorce for you.
  • Lawyers charge different fees from city to city, and in different law firms. Lawyers often want $500.00 or more to start a divorce.
  • When the parties cannot agree, a divorce costs more in lawyer's fees.
  • A Court may ask one spouse who has more money to pay part or all of the fees. This may include some of the spouse's fees.

How long does it take to be divorced?

  • You must wait for 90 days after your spouse gets copies of the papers.
  • After 90 days the Court may say you are divorced.
  • Sometimes in special cases the Court lets you be divorced sooner.
  • If there are problems to solve, it may take more than a year to be divorced.

What if there is domestic abuse?

  • You should talk to a lawyer if your spouse has abused you.
  • Call the Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-942-0333 to find help.

(Domestic abuse information)

What if my spouse and I have children?

  • If you have children, the divorce process is more complicated.
  • You must take a class called, "Children in the Middle."
  • You may need to make a parenting plan for you and your spouse to share time with the children.
  • You must make decisions about custody and child support.
  • For more information about custody and child support, click on the words below to go to that information.

(Custody information) (Child Support information)

What if my spouse has a pension?

  • A pension earned during a marriage is a joint asset of the couple.
  • During a divorce, steps must be taken to divide a pension.
  • You can lose your right to the pension benefits if you do not divide it in the divorce.
  • Dividing a pension is hard. You should talk to an attorney about the pension.

(Pension information)

Can I get alimony?

  • Many times the court does not order alimony.
  • A court will look at all of the information to decide this.
  • The court will want to know:
    • how much each of them earn.
    • how long they were married.
    • about support of children.

What if my spouse and I disagree about bills or custody of the children while we wait for the divorce?

  • If you have problems with money or children, you ask the Court to help you.
  • You ask the Court for temporary orders for support or custody.
  • The temporary orders tell you and your spouse what to do while you wait to be divorced.

I can't agree with my spouse, how do we solve the problems we have?

  • You should make a list of things you need to decide.
  • If you cannot agree on how to solve the problems, you may need to talk to an attorney.
    • An attorney can tell you about your rights
  • You may also want a mediator to help you. A mediator is someone who helps two people make an agreement.
  • Some Iowa courts may require you to go to a mediator.
  • If you do not agree, you may need a trial so you and your spouse can tell the Court what you want.
  • A judge is different from a mediator. A judge can tell you what you both must do.
    • What the judge orders may be different from what you or your spouse wants.
  • Your divorce will take longer if you have a trial.
  • It is better if you and your spouse can decide what you want.

What happens when the Court says my divorce is final?

  • When your divorce is done, the judge will write an order about your divorce. The order is called a decree.
  • The order:
    • Tells you and your spouse what you must do with your money, your debts and your property
    • Tells you and your spouse what you must do about your children.
  • You must do what the Court tells you to do in the order.
  • If you do not follow the order, the Court can make you pay money or go to jail.

What if I don't agree with the divorce order?

  • You may appeal the order.
  • There are rules that you must follow to appeal the Court order.
  • You can also modify the order.
    • To modify the order you must file a "Petition to modify" the order.
    • To modify the order, something important must have changed after the divorce was final.

(Modifying a custody order)

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.
  • 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: Mar 06, 2023
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