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Child Custody Laws in Iowa

Child Custody Laws in Iowa



Over the last ten years, Iowa’s child custody laws and regulations have evolved to prioritize the best interests of children involved in custody disputes. This article provides an overview of key changes in Iowa’s child custody laws and regulations from 2013 to 2023.

2013: Child’s Best Interests Standard

   – Adoption of the child’s best interests standard as the central consideration in custody determinations.

2014: Shared Custody Emphasis

   – Emphasis on shared custody arrangements to encourage active involvement of both parents.

2015: Parenting Plans Requirement

   – Introduction of mandatory parenting plans outlining custody, visitation, and support arrangements.

2016: Child’s Preferences Consideration

   – Consideration of the child’s preferences in custody determinations based on age and maturity.

2017: Grandparent Visitation Recognition

   – Recognition of grandparent visitation rights in custody proceedings.

2018: Domestic Violence Protections

   – Strengthened provisions to protect children from exposure to domestic violence.

2019: Mediation Promotion

   – Promotion of mediation as a means to resolve custody disputes amicably.

2020: Virtual Visitation Acceptance

   – Acknowledgment of virtual visitation as a means for non-custodial parents to maintain contact.

2021: Military Deployment Consideration

   – Consideration of the impact of military deployment on custody arrangements.

2022: Child Support Alignment

   – Alignment of child custody and child support procedures for consistency.

2023: Relocation Guidelines

   – Introduction of guidelines for parents seeking to relocate with their child, emphasizing stability.

Iowa’s continuous efforts to adapt child custody laws reflect the state’s dedication to the well-being of children and families. Staying informed about these changes is crucial for parents and legal professionals navigating custody matters.

Guide to Child Custody Laws in Iowa

Child custody can be a difficult issue for parents to resolve with each other.  Child custody laws in Iowa use some specific terminology not used by many other states, so it is important to have an understanding of these terms before a custody dispute begins.  This guide will explain the terminology associated with child custody laws in Iowa so that you can have a deeper understanding before you start your child custody case.

Parenting Plans and Mediation

In general, Iowa courts try to establish custody based on the best interest of the child.  To that end, courts try to get parents to agree to a parenting plan rather than having a long battle in court that could traumatize their children.  Some parents are able to voluntarily submit a parenting plan to the court that divides their parenting responsibilities in a way acceptable to both them and their children.

If you and your ex-spouse are having difficulties agreeing on some aspect of custody, you may be ordered into mediation based on child custody laws in Iowa.  A third-party mediator can keep your conversations with your child’s other parent productive and on-task so that emotions and recriminations don’t sidetrack your negotiations.

Once you have worked out a parenting plan, you must submit it to a judge to have it approved by the court.  If the judge does not believe the parenting plan is in the best interest of the child, child custody laws in Iowa permit the judge to modify or refuse to accept the parenting plan.

Legal Custody

When “custody” is referred to in Iowa, it refers only to legal custody.  Physical custody is called “physical care” and will be discussed in the next section.  Child custody laws in Iowa allow for a child’s legal custody to rest with either or both parents.  If both parents have custody, they must make legal decisions for their child together, including decisions about education, healthcare, and religious instruction.

If only one parent is given custody of the child, that parent will have sole legal responsibility for decisionmaking on behalf of the child.  The custodial parent will have no obligation to seek the permission or advice of a non-custodial parent.

Physical Care

Physical care simply refers to where a child is living.  Child custody laws in Iowa permit parents to split physical care of their child or for one parent to be granted sole physical care.  Typically, if one parent is given primary physical care responsibilities, the other parent will be awarded visitation rights.


Visitation will generally be assigned to any parent who does not have primary physical care responsibilities, and most visitation will be unsupervised.  Child custody laws in Iowa specify that judges can order supervised visitation for children if their safety may be at risk during an unsupervised visit.  Supervised visitation usually involves a friend of the family or a social worker being present in the room with a parent and child for the duration of their visit.