Divorce in Iowa - Joint Physical Care

The traditional approach in Iowa is joint legal custody with primary physical care to one party, typically the mother and visitation to the father.  In recent years, fathers rights have become a bigger issue and many women work as much as men who more and very involved in caring for the children.  Hence, Iowa courts are more likely now to award joint physical care if both parties have been very involved in child rearing.

Factors Iowa Courts consider in awarding Joint Physical Care

1. Stability and Continuity

Iowa courts prefer to limit joint physical care to couples that have had a history or very active participation by both parents in child rearing.  So if one party has left most or all of child rearing to the other during the marriage, joint physical care may not be appropriate.  The focus is more on what continuing what the kids have become used to.   So if one parent has historically cared for the child 2/3 of the time, the joint physical care order may call for then to continue 2/3 and the other party to have 1/3.  This is a recognition that fathers in particular are much more involved in parenting that in the past.  The traditional once a week, every other weekend and 6 weeks in the summer just does not cut it for either kids are parents in many cases.

2.  Communication & Respect

Our Judges are a lot more comfortable awarding joint custody where there has been good communication and respect shown between that parties, especially with respect to the children.  If there is no trust between the parents, joint physical care is less likely to be approved.

3.  Degree of Conflict

Since joint physical care requires a lot of give and take between the parties, marriages that have been conflict ridden, followed by divorces involving various charges and counter charges do not support an order of shared physical care.  Uncontested divorces are more likely to result in joint physical care than contested cases.

4.  Agreement as to Child Rearing Practices

If the parties are in general agreement about how the kids should be raised including discipline, bed times etc,, joint physical care makes more sense.

Jeff Mathias Law Office, 4800 Mills Civic Parkway, Suite 218, West Des Moines, Iowa 50265, 515-261-7526 or Toll Free, 1-800-997-1395. Divorce in Iowa website.

How does joint physical care affect child support?

When a judge here in Des Moines or elsewhere in Iowa orders joint legal care, child support is calculated for both parents.  Whichever parent would be obligated to pay the higher amount does pay support to the other minus the amount they would receive.  In cases where both parties earn approximately the same amount and share custody equally, there may be no child support.  See Jeff's History of Divorce and Child Support.

See Divorce in Iowa with no children and no lawyer


Divorce & Bankruptcy in Iowa

Divorce and bankruptcy go together like peas and corn.  Oftentimes, if a couple is keeping it cordial and will have an uncontested divorce, they will file their bankruptcy jointly before getting divorced.  This way there is only one attorney fee and only one filing fee.  It does require cooperation between the parties.  And if there is a conflict like who will take possession of the home or child custody, two separate attorneys would be needed for the bankruptcy as well since hiring one attorney would create a conflict of interest.

Bankruptcy can also smooth the divorce process whether filed before or after the Iowa divorce is filed.  Iowa is not a community property state, so you are not automatically liable for all debts of your spouse, but many married Iowan's do have joint debt.  When you are divorced, you may agree and the Judge may approve through a divorce decree which party is responsible for joint debt.  People tend to think that is the end of the discussion.  But because the lender was not a party to the divorce, they are not bound by this order.  So the bank can still pursue both parties even though the divorce court ordered payment of the debt by one party.

Hence, people will often file bankruptcy so they and/or their spouse will be free of the hassles of joint debt.  I've even seen cases where a party was pressured by the Iowa District Court Judge to file bankruptcy as part of resolving the divorce.  Judges probably can't actually order a party to file bankruptcy.  But they can impose sanctions and then give the party a chance to avoid the sanctions if they do follow through on their promise to discharge joint debt in bankruptcy.

Eligibility for bankruptcy can be helped sometimes by filing the bankruptcy after separation or divorce, especially for women.  If the husband has a high salary that might make it difficult to file a Ch 7 full discharge, the wife may find she is suddenly eligible to file Ch 7 individually once she is apart from him, especially if there are kids.

Conversely, sometimes the party with the higher income benefits from filing bankruptcy before the separation since they can count their spouse in their household size.

If you are paying child support, you get to include the kids you are supporting in your household size for Chapter 7 income eligibility.

If you are considering uncontested or collaborative divorce here in Des Moines and you have heavy debt, discharging the debt in bankruptcy can be a way to get a real fresh start after divorce.  Jeff also handles Des Moines, Iowa Criminal Law defense.

See Jeff's Des Moines Iowa Bankruptcy Blogger.  See Cheap Missouri Uncontested Divorce


Affordable Fixed Attorney Fee Uncontested Iowa Divorce

If you are agreed on child custody and support, visitation, division of joint property like your home, cars and also who will be responsible for any joint debt etc., you have an uncontested divorce, that is great! Contact Jeff for his fixed affordable Attorney fee for uncontested cases.  See Jeff's Iowa divorce Facebook Page.

What is an uncontesed divorce?

"Uncontested" means the issues that people often fight about in a divorce proceeding have been agreed to by the parties.  So if you can come to agreement with your soon to be x-spouse on:

-Child Custody
-Child Support
-Distribution of Assets including the home, retirement plans
-Who will be responsible for joint debt etc.

then you have an uncontested divorce, there is no contest between the two of you over issues of conflict.

Since Mandatory Mediation is now the norm in Polk County Iowa courts anyway, even if a case starts out contested and the parties fully intend to have a trial with the Judge deciding the case in the end, the parties are required to meet with both parties, both attorneys and a mediator and try to resolve conflicts before getting to trial.  Fewer and fewer family law cases are actually resolved in court.

Problems with Contested Divorce:

1.  High Financial Cost

Good divorce attorneys are not cheap and charge by the hour, often in 6 to 15 minute increments.  So you provide your attorney with a large retainer, $10,000 or more is not unusual in child custody cases, and then the attorney starts to bill against it.  So one 3 minute call is one 6-15 minute increment.  Clients tend to find this approach very frustrating as they see their funds bleeding away with each monthly bill.  Temporary orders, preliminary hearings, many calls to opposing counsel, written discovery like interrogatories, request for production of documents, depositions which may require court reporters and video technicians in some cases, trial preparation and expert witness costs often result in huge expense.

2.  High Emotional Cost

Especially if there are kids involved, the emotional toll of contested divorce can be higher than the financial cost.  Kids pick up on everything.  They can tell how you are feeling about your spouse even if you don't say it.  Too often, when we are in the heat of battle, we say things we wish we had not, it is human to do so.  If instead of quarreling we choose to work things out, it accrues great benefits to the emotional health of our children.

3.  Long Timelines

Contested divorce involves many long time lines for pleadings, temporary orders, discovery, hearings, trial and appeal.  It is not unusual for civil litigation to go on for years.  Most Iowan's would rather move on with their lives more quickly.  An uncontested divorce can be completed in about 90 days and the 90 day wait may even be waived if new medical costs are upcoming, one party wants to buy real estate or needs finality for tax purposes etc. the court may approve a waiver of the waiting period.

Uncontested Divorce Process

If you decide to go forward with an uncontested divorce with Jeff's office, you can email Jeff with questions.  Jeff will collect some information and get your petition and other documents prepared, get your approval and file the documents with the Court.  Your spouse can accept service voluntarily without the need to pay for the Sheriff to serve.  We can prepare your decree according to your wishes, get it signed off on by your spouse as well.  This gives you way more time to concentrate on moving forward rather than dwelling on the past.  See Iowa State Bar Association : Divorce.

See Jeff's Des Moines Iowa Divorce website.  See Uncontested divorce - Chicago.


What is Collaborative Divorce?

If you are not in agreement on important issues like child custody, support, visitation and division of property like home and cars or who will be responsible for joint debt, you have a contested divorce.  One approach is to hire a litigation attorney to fight it out with your spouse and their attorney before a judge.

Another alternative is to hire a collaborative attorney to help you work through the areas of conflict and see if resolution can be found cooperatively, across a conference room table.  Collaborative divorce attorneys know that litigated divorce creates more tension, stress and higher costs for their clients.  Active opposition is an unpleasant way to conclude a marriage.

If both parties agree to it, you will enter into a contract with your spouse in which you both agree to resolve your disputes cooperatively.   First you would meet with your attorney and work through issues on which you agree and issues on which you disagree.  Next the parties will gather some information from each other so everyone's cards are on the table when we meet.  There should be no need for formal discovery supervised by a Judge in collaboration.  Instead, both parties agree to come forward with complete and truthful responses to requests about for example what assets they have.

Next, the attorneys get together and make sure we are all on the same page as to issues of agreement and issues that are disputed.  Once the foundation is laid, all four parties meet together in one place and start working through the issues.  Collaboration attorneys are still advocates.  Our role is to make sure you are treated fairly throughout the process and guide you to a fair and equitable distribution of assets and debt.  It may take 1-3 sessions to resolve contested issues in a typical collaboration.

Finally, the parties file a JOINT divorce decree that reflects their agreement.  There is no need for a Judge to hear evidence or decide disputed matters in a way that may not be satisfying to either party.
Your collaborative attorney represent you just for collaboration.  If either party gives up on the collaboration and wants to litigate, the collaborative attorneys both withdraw from the case and the parties hire litigation attorneys.  So your attorney has no incentive to "feed the fire" of hostility between the parties.

Collaborative divorce tends to take less time and incur fewer attorney fees and costs than traditional contested divorce.  It's a recognition that our adversary system is not well suited to the separation of families, especially when children are involved.  In fact, collaboration is a great opportunity to model for our children how to resolve difficult disputes.  Iowan's who opt for uncontested divorce are often able to get joint physical care of their children since cooperation between the parties is a big factor.

Jeff Mathias Law Office, 4800 Mills Civic Parkway, Suite 218, West Des Moines, Iowa 50265, 515-261-7526 or Toll Free, 1-800-997-1395.

See Wikipedia on Collaborative Law.  See Jeff's Des Moines Collaborative Divorce website.


Polk County Courthouse

The Polk County Courthouse

The Polk County Iowa Courthouse is located at 500 Mulberry Street, Des Moines, Iowa 50309.  We file your Uncontested Divorce online, so unless you have a contested case where a hearing before the Judge is required, you are not likely to need to travel to the courthouse for your divorce here in Des Moines, West Des Moines and other Polk County communities.  See Iowa Courts - EDMS Facebook,

Jeff Mathias Law Office
4800 Mills Civic Parkway, Suite 218
West Des Moines, Iowa 50265
Tel. 515-261-7526
Toll Free 1-800-997-1395