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Family Law FAQ's

What types of child custody are there?

What types of child custody are there?

It is possible for one parent to have custody (sole custody) of the children, or for parents to share custody (joint custody).

“Legal custody” refers to the right to make major decisions for one’s children, including those regarding education, medical care, and religion. “Physical custody” refers to the parent with whom a child primarily resides. Both legal and physical custody may be either sole or joint.

Most parents are granted joint legal custody. The court may find, however, that joint custody is not in the child’s best interests (for example, if there is domestic violence in the home). In such a case, the court must state its reasons for awarding sole custody. Physical custody is typically placed with the parent who historically has provided most of the day-to-day care of the child (although there are many exceptions). "Shared physical custody" or "shared care" refers to a custody arrangement where the child lives approximately half the time with each parent. For some families, this can be an ideal arrangement, but it requires the parents to respect, listen, and cooperate with each other consistently for their children. Shared care is not for everyone.

The paramount consideration is the best interests of the children. A parent’s desire or need to have custody doesn’t mean their home will be the optimal place for the children to live.

What does “best interests of the child” mean?

As noted above, custody is awarded based on the best interests of the child. The best interests are determined by an analysis of a list of several factors, including each parent’s ability to meet the child’s needs, each parent’s emotional and environmental stability and wholesomeness, and the relationship between the child and his or her siblings and parents. A list of the factors considered is set forth in Iowa Code section 598.41(3), but bear in mind that the court may consider any factor it deems relevant to the determination.

How is child support determined?

Iowa recognizes that both parents have a duty to adequately support their children. For this reason, the state has established child support guidelines which are based on both parents' incomes. The guidelines are a formula and the court must consider the resulting figure, but variation is possible if the situation is exceptional.

The assumptions used in the calculation of child support can be very complex. While support calculators are available online, they may not take into account all relevant information and may be very inaccurate. We recommend that you contact our office with child support questions.

Can child support be modified?

Child support can be modified, but getting a modification sometimes can be difficult. Child support modification is based on a “substantial change in circumstances,” which may include changes in employment or earning capacity, changes in the mental, physical, or educational needs of a child, or certain other situations. If, based on the situation, child support would increase or decrease by 10% or more under the guidelines, the change is considered substantial.

Do I really need a lawyer for my divorce?

Many couples that have few assets or debts find it easier and less expensive to use the standard forms available on the Iowa Supreme Court website:  http://www.iowacourts.gov/For_the_Public/Representing_Yourself_in_Court/index.asp.
However, we strongly recommend that if you have minor children, land, or substantial financial issues, both parties will be best served by hiring experienced attorneys to advise them and properly draft the necessary paperwork to complete the case.

Can we use the same lawyer for our divorce?

Supreme Court ethics rules strictly forbid a lawyer from representing or advising both parties in a divorce. One party must become our client, and the other may seek advice and/or representation from a different attorney, or they may choose to proceed "pro se," which means representing oneself.

How long will a divorce case take?

Iowa law prohibits the court from granting a divorce until at least 90 days after the receiving spouse (called the Respondent) has been served with the Petition. The waiting period can be waived if the case is exceptional. Otherwise, if the parties promptly agree to a settlement, it is likely the case can be finished in about four or five months. If they don’t agree, and the case must go to trial, delays of a year or more are quite possible.

It's important to bring all paperwork concerning your case, including court papers, notices from government agencies like the child support office, and letters, emails, or other messages from the opposing party or their attorney. It's also very helpful if you bring photos, recordings, or other important evidence, as well as a list of witnesses and their contact information.