GETTING A DIVORCE NOT ONLY AFFECTS YOU, IT AFFECTS YOUR CHILDREN, FAMILY AND FINANCES.
YOU NEED ATTORNEYS WHO WILL NOT ONLY ASSIST YOU IN DETERMINING YOUR LEGAL OPTIONS, BUT WHO WILL LISTEN TO YOUR SIDE OF THE STORY AND HELP TAILOR AN APPROACH THAT WORKS FOR YOU./
When it comes to divorce, people often have many questions: What do you do after being served with divorce papers? Do you want to start the divorce process? Does it matter who files for divorce first?
No matter your situation, divorce is a big decision and can be very complex, whether you are the one who wants to get a divorce or are the person who was served papers. It affects you on a deeply personal level and can be emotionally draining. Going through a divorce ranks as one of life’s greatest stressors. Unfortunately, a substantial portion of marriages in the United States end up in divorce.
At Hall & Wingert, our attorneys have years of experience handling divorce cases in Iowa, and we understand that you likely have concerns that are specific to your situation. We are happy to speak to you directly about those concerns. If you’d like to learn more about general issues surrounding divorce in Iowa, you might also find the following information useful.
When to hire a divorce attorney
If you and your spouse can reach an amicable agreement on all your issues and can file an “uncontested” divorce, you will save both time and money in court costs. Whatever you agree to must be presented to a family court judge whose job is to approve your petition. However, if your divorce is contested, or if you have young children, it is quite likely you will need to retain an experienced divorce attorney.
Are there any alternatives to divorce?
There are three: annulment, legal separation for a period of time (a “trial” divorce), and informal mediation involving both spouses.
Keys to hiring a divorce attorney
- Do your research: Look at law firm and consumer review websites that you trust. Does the attorney’s website give you good, usable information? Does the attorney appear seasoned?
- Meet the lawyer in person: People who hire divorce lawyers tend to be more intimately involved with them for a period of time, because the decision-making is more of a partnership. You must be comfortable with, and able to trust, your attorney.
- Talk to more than one lawyer: Shop around. Don’t hire someone just because they gave you a bit of their “free time.” And if they use this to guilt you into hiring them, move on. Different attorneys have often have different approaches. The interview is your chance to not only hire the right lawyer, but to understand multiple approaches to your situation.
- Don’t base your decision on lofty promises: The higher the expectations your prospective divorce lawyer offers, the less comfortable you should be. You’re not buying a new car or a washing machine. And remember this: in a contested divorce, usually the higher the promises of your lawyer, the more your opponent spouse is likely to resist, and the longer it could take to hammer out a final decree.
- Move on quickly if it’s not working out: Don’t be afraid to “jump ship” if things aren’t working out as your divorce attorney “promised.”
Questions to ask a divorce attorney
There are many aspects of dissolution of a marriage. Be prepared to ask questions that will clarify issues such as division of property, assets, debts, retirement accounts and real estate; spousal support (aka alimony); legal and physical custody of children, visitation and child support.
Common Questions Related to Divorce in Iowa
There are several questions that frequently come up when divorce is contemplated:
- What should I do about child custody?
- What is primary physical custody?
- What is Joint Legal Custody?
- What is Joint Physical Care?
- What do I do about child support?
- How much child support will I pay?
- Who covers health insurance?
- How will the court divide our assets?
- How will the court divide our debts?
- How do I get alimony?
Let’s address some of the most pressing concerns posed by these questions…
Understanding Divorce Law in Iowa
Iowa is a “no-fault” state, which means you do not have to prove your spouse caused the marriage to fail, nor does your spouse need to prove that you caused the marriage to fail. You must live in Iowa for one year before you can file for a divorce in Iowa courts. However, if your spouse resides in Iowa, you may be able to file now.
Components of a Divorce
The typical issues that need to be resolved in divorces are:
- Child custody
- Child support
- Division of property, assets and debts
- Division of retirement accounts and real estate
- Health insurance coverage
- Spousal support (aka alimony)
- Tax exemptions.
Sometimes, parties in a divorce can come to an agreement about these components. The attorneys will then draft a stipulated agreement, which will eventually be filed with the Court. However, in many cases, these issues must be presented in court for the judge to decide.
Whatever the situation, the lawyers at Hall & Wingert will guide you through the process. We tailor an approach suited for your personal and unique circumstances.
CHILD CUSTODY AND VISITATION/PARENTING TIME
Divorces deeply affect children. Your lawyers at Hall & Wingert will provide you with advice on how to appropriately devise and plan a strategy that best fits your unique situation. In considering child custody, the Court ultimately looks at what’s in the best interest of the children.
Parents involved in a child custody action or divorce will have to take a class called “Children in the Middle,” which is required by statute.
In Iowa, there are generally two categories of custody. The first category is legal custody. Legal custody addresses the rights and responsibilities of a parent, including decision-making affecting the child’s legal status, medical care, education, extracurricular activities, and religious instruction, among other things. The parties may opt for sharing such custody, which is called joint legal custody, so that each party has equal rights to the children in terms of these responsibilities. In some cases, sole legal custody may be awarded under specific circumstances.
The second category is physical custody. Physical custody means the right and responsibility to maintain a home for the children and provide for their routine care. In general, it means who has the children in their care and how often. The judge may award one person with primary care and award the other person visitation, which is also called parenting time.
The person awarded visitation or parenting time is referred to as the noncustodial parent and the other parent is referred to as the person with primary care or the primary caretaker. On the other hand, the individual is who awarded primary physical care is called the custodial parent. There are circumstances, however, where the court may award the parties joint physical care (aka shared care and joint physical custody) where both parties have the children about 50 percent of the time. In each case, the court looks at many factors in making its decision when determining custody.
The Iowa divorce attorneys at Hall & Wingert will discuss these factors with each client to provide an understanding of the factors the judge looks at in making the custody decision. We have worked with clients in many neighboring counties here in Iowa. Give us a call today and schedule a free consultation.
How to consider children in the divorce
This can be the hardest part, especially if you and your spouse have strong personalities. This is why you need to remember that in a divorce, the children’s interests trump the parents’ every time! All divorce judges rule for them first. So even if you and your spouse become sworn enemies, you must set those differences aside and be committed to making your post-divorce family work. Listen to your lawyer when it comes to the children. You’ll save lots of time and money and preserve peace of mind for all involved.
Iowa requires that both parents support their children financially. In many cases, the Iowa court will require one parent, usually the noncustodial parent, to pay a reasonable amount of financial support to the custodial parent. In most cases, parents are obligated to support their children until they turn 18 years of age. Sometimes parents can be required to pay child support past the age of 18. The amount of child support a parent will pay depends primarily on each parent’s income and other resources and how much time each parent spends with the children.
In some cases, no party may be ordered to pay child support given the similar incomes of the parents and the similar time each parent spends with the children. In addition, the cost of health insurance and the parent covering that expense will play a factor in the ultimate child support calculation. Ultimately, the judge is expected to follow the Iowa Child Support Guidelines according to Iowa Court Rules, unless doing so would be unjust or inappropriate.
If you already have an existing child support order in place, it may be necessary to have it modified. In order to qualify for a modification, there must be a substantial change in circumstances. Talk to one of the Iowa divorce attorneys at Hall & Wingert to determine whether your current child support order qualifies for modification.
Divorces are actions in a court of equity. Marital property in Iowa is divided as a matter of equity, which does not necessarily mean it’s “equal.” With the division of marital property based upon equitable distribution, it is important that your attorney make the proper analysis so that you get your fair share. The court divides the marital property between the parties as it deems equitable and just, sometimes setting aside any inherited property or gifts received individually.
Some of the factors the court considers are:
- The property brought to the marriage by each party
- The financial contribution of each party to the marriage
- The past contribution by one party to the education or increased earning power of the other
- The present and future earning potential of each party
- The physical and emotional health of the parties
- The desirability of awarding the family home to the party with custody of the children.
The court looks at a variety of factors to determine whether alimony should be awarded to a particular party during a divorce action, including the parties’ incomes, the duration of the marriage, and support of the children.
As you can see, there are several considerations made in the divorce process. We encourage you to contact the Iowa divorce attorneys at Hall & Wingert to learn more about your options.
What should I do before telling my partner?
First, the worst thing you can do is ambush them by having papers served when they are not expecting them. That is a sure-fire road to an emotional, acrimonious and lengthy fight. You owe your spouse (and kids, if you have any) more than that. Be true in your attempts at civility.
- Try to have the conversation privately where you can talk without interruption. Do NOT choose a crowded restaurant! And make sure the kids are nowhere around during and after your conversation. Send them to visit grandparents or on an overnight sleepover with their friends.
- Keep calm, speak quietly, and try very hard not to be accusatory of your spouse in any way. And be prepared for your spouse to react emotionally, especially if they are not expecting your news.
- Be sure to give them every opportunity to speak their mind. And do your very best to listen to them without prejudice, even if you disagree with everything they say.
How you present the “bad news” to your spouse, and whether you can remain calm and non-accusatory throughout the conversation, might greatly reduce the amount of blowback you get at the time and down the road.
How long will my divorce take?
That depends on how many contentious issues there are (alimony, child issues, division of property) and how far the two of you are from agreeing. But other than a few emergency exceptions, no Iowa divorce can be finalized in less than 90 days of service of the original notice. The less the two of you agree on, the more time it will take.
What should I expect when filing for divorce?
A lot of issues can influence what to expect once you file (and have divorce papers served). If the two of you agree on division of property and alimony, and minor children are not involved, a no-fault divorce will usually present few challenges.
But if you do not agree, or if children are involved, it could take months for the two of you – and your respective attorneys – to reach an agreement. And that can take significantly longer than the 90-day minimum amount of time between service and the final divorce decree. If it turns out that the judge has to step in to settle all contested issues, it could take even longer. The more emotionally attached one or both of you are to these issues, the more time it will take.
Where to file for divorce
Iowa divorce petitions can be filed in the county where either spouse lives. If the defendant spouse is an Iowa resident who was personally served legal papers, there is no residency requirement for the filing spouse. Otherwise, there is a one-year residency requirement.
Factors to consider during a divorce
The time involved in reaching the final decree is going to be longer when a divorce is contested. Eventually, the best accommodations are realized through “give and take.” For example, one spouse keeps the house, the other gets the lion’s share of savings and investments. But one aspect to avoid is using child custody or visitation as a “bargaining chip” in order to get more property or a higher amount of alimony.
What should I do before filing for a divorce?
All situations are unique to the couple that is divorcing. But some general actions one should consider before filing include:
- Get your finances in order and have up to date copies of all those records.
- Get your personal affairs in order. It’s also a good idea to avoid dating others during the divorce process.
- Save as much money as possible.
- Start keeping a journal of events leading up to the divorce and keep adding to it as you work your way through the legal system.
- If possible, try to seek couples therapy. If your spouse resists, see a therapist on your own.
- Investigate all divorce alternatives, such as a trial separation or mediation.
It is generally accepted that half of the couples who marry will eventually divorce. But according to data from the National Survey of Family Growth, the probability that a first marriage would last at least a decade was 68 percent for women and 70 percent for men. The probability that they would make it to 20 years was 52 percent for women and 56 for men.
The age at which we marry may have an effect on our chances of divorce. According to research published in Psych Central, an independent mental health online resource, those who marry before age 25 tend to be more likely to divorce than those who marry after that age.
Representing Men, Women and Same Sex Couples
No matter whether a marriage is between a man and woman or two of the same sex, the Iowa divorce laws apply equally to all legally married couples. That’s why Hall & Wingert serves all married Iowans, represents each one’s interests to the best of our ability, and tailors our approach to your personal and unique circumstances.