Divorce in Iowa – Joint Physical Care Takes the Fight Out

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Historically, Iowa courts awarded 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 are now more involved in caring for our children.  Hence, Iowa courts now often award joint physical care if the parties are cooperating well and both have been very involved in child rearing.

Child Support is calculated for both parties.  The party with the higher child support pays the difference of the two figures. Iowa courts are very serious about making sure children are well provided for.  If both parties have about the same income then the support may be minimal.  In fact, if it is under $100/mo. the court may waive the payment of any child support in joint custody cases.  Otherwise, Iowa divorce courts do want to see child support in place.  However, the parties can work out their own arrangements.  For example, the person receiving the support might pay for all day care expenses with the funds rather than half.

Joint physical care has taken a lot of the fight out of divorce in Iowa; why fight over custody if you can share?

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 continuing what the kids have become used to.  This is a recognition that fathers in particular are much more involved in parenting than in the past.  The traditional “one evening a week, every other weekend and 6 weeks in the summer” just does not cut it for either kids or parents in Iowa anymore.

Jeff may ask you to sign an affidavit that we will file with the court explaining how active each parent has been in raising the children.  This tends to help our Judges decide on joint physical care.

2.  Communication & Respect

Our Judges are a lot more comfortable awarding joint custody where there has been good communication and respect shown between the parties, especially around the children.  If there is no trust between the parents, joint physical care is less likely to be approved.  So if you are approaching divorce and would like to pursue joint custody, but sure to communicate often with your spouse and avoid saying anything negative about them to the kids.

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.   Joint physical care pretty much requires an uncontested divorce, contested cases involve too much conflict in most cases for joint custody to follow.

4.  Agreement as to Child Rearing Practices

If the parties are in general agreement about how the kids should be raised including issues like discipline, bed times etc,, joint physical care makes more sense.  If the parties can not come to agreement on these issues, it can be better for the kids to have one parent with primary custody.

If you are awarded joint physical care, rejoice!  This is a much better arrangement than we used to have.  We must not take it for granted.  It requires nurturing since either party could always go back and ask for a change to primary care if there are too many problems.

How does joint physical care affect CHILD SUPPORT?

When a judge here in Des Moines or elsewhere in Iowa orders joint physical care, Iowa 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 if their spouse was paying; so it is the difference between the two amounts.  In cases where both parties earn approximately the same amount and share custody equally, there may be no child support.

Our Divorce is uncontested, can one attorney represent us both?

In no event shall a lawyer represent both parties in dissolution or marriage proceedings.  Iowa R. of Prof’l Resp. 32:1.7(c)(2016).  We attorneys have a duty of loyalty to our client.  Our clients share confidences that can become an issue if a case becomes contested.  It is improper for an Iowa attorney to meet with or attempt to represent both parties in a divorce.  In most cases, my clients spouse will simply sign off on the acceptance of service and settlement agreement without their own attorney although they of course can retain their own attorney if they wish.

“My divorce was uncontested and our kids moved freely between our two households.  Beth and I talk often about the kids and respect each others wishes.  In fact, Beth and I are good friends now!” -Des Moines Divorce Attorney Jeff Mathias

Jeff’s Iowa Child Support law page.  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.  See Divorce in Iowa with no children and no lawyer.  Jeff also handles Iowa Criminal Defense.

Iowa’s Famous Same Sex Marriage Case

In a national landmark decision, the Iowa Supreme Court found unconstitutional the Iowa Code section declaring that only marriage between a man and woman was valid.  Varnum v. Brien, 763 N.W. 2d 862 (Iowa 2009).  They found the Equal Protection Clause to be an evolving concept that must address the needs of each generation.