What Do Iowa Courts Consider When Awarding Child Custody?

If Iowa parents agree to a custody arrangement, they can formally request that the court enter an order that provides for this agreement. However, if the parents can’t reach an agreement on child custody, the court will award custody based on the “best interest of the child.” The court uses many factors to determine what will be best for the child.

Types of Child Custody

Iowa recognizes two parts to child custody: legal and physical custody. Legal custody involves making important decisions regarding the child, including medical care, education, extracurricular activities, and religion. Physical custody (also called primary care) involves where the child spends their time and where the child lives. A parent with primary physical custody has the legal right and duty to maintain a home for the child and provide care for the child.

Either form of child custody may be sole or joint custody. Sole custody means only one parent has that particular type of custody. Joint custody grants both parents with the rights or responsibilities related to child custody.

There are four possible forms of child custody in Iowa:

  • Joint legal custody – Both parents have an equal legal right to make important decisions regarding the child. Iowa law favors joint legal custody.
  • Sole legal custody – One parent is entrusted with the right to make important decisions regarding the child. For this form of custody to be awarded, the court must find, by a higher burden of proof, that joint custody is not best for the child. This most commonly involves criminal activity, such as domestic violence.
  • Joint physical custody – Both parents are awarded physical care of the child. Parents have shared parenting time. Neither parent has more rights to the child than the other.
  • Sole physical custody – The child primarily lives with one parent while the other parent has liberal visitation rights.

Getting the Court to Award Joint Child Custody

In Iowa, there is a presumption in favor of joint custody. If either parent asks the court to grant joint custody, the court has to grant it unless there is a compelling reason not to. However, the court does not automatically order joint custody if there has been domestic violence in the home. The court presumes joint custody is not best for the child in this situation, but this presumption can be overcome. Depending on which county the case is in, the court will order the parties to participate in mediation in order to allow the parties an opportunity to resolve their differences and come to an agreement.

Factors Iowa Courts Consider When Awarding Custody

The court considers many factors when awarding custody, including the following:

  • Any history of domestic abuse – The court will consider any history of the granting of a protective order or emergency order, calls to law enforcement regarding allegations of abuse, an arrest of the parent for domestic abuse, or a conviction for domestic abuse.
  • Whether a parent has allowed a person who is a registered sex offender unsupervised access to their child
  • Whether the safety of anyone in the household will be put in jeopardy by the custody award  
  • If both parents would be good caregivers for the child
  • The effect that a lack of contact with one parent would have on the child and his or her development
  • Whether the parents support the child’s relationship with the other parent
  • Whether the parents can communicate effectively regarding the child’s needs
  • The relationship the parents had with the child before the separation
  • The relationship the parents had with the child after the separation
  • How close the parents’ homes are to each other
  • Whether one or both parents agree or do not agree to joint custody
  • The child’s wishes, considering his or her age and maturity level, although this is rare in most counties (judge’s don’t like to involve children in the proceedings whenever possible)
  • Any other factor that the court determines to be relevant

How the Case Is Handled

The court will schedule a trial to hear testimony and take evidence. Each parent may be represented by their own child custody lawyer. Witnesses may testify about their observations regarding the parent/child relationship or other aspects of the case. The judge will usually make a decision within a few weeks of the hearing and will enter an order regarding custody and visitation, but it can sometimes take longer for a decision to be reached.

How a Lawyer Can Help with Custody Determinations

Family law cases involving custody issues in Iowa can be very complicated. It is important that you have sound legal assistance on your side. An experienced family law attorney can help put an enforceable custody order in place. We can help you gather evidence to help you prove what is in the best interest of your child.

After a divorce or separation, you may feel extremely stressed. Having the services of a family law attorney is invaluable in this situation. An experienced child custody lawyer can minimize the stress that you may encounter when battling over child custody. A child custody attorney handles the legal issues involved in your case so that you can focus on taking care of your family.

A child custody lawyer can also help with the mediation process to try to resolve the case in an amicable manner. A successful mediation can often assist the parents in resolving a case much quicker, allowing you and the other parent to establish a new relationship as co-parents. However, we believe that it is often best that the attorney not attend mediation as it serves to increase the client’s legal expenses and sometimes attorneys can get in the way of two parents having a “real” conversation about their family.

Iowa child custody cases involve filing a petition that must meet specific criteria. A knowledgeable Iowa child custody lawyer can ensure that your petition meets these requirements. If you are not experienced at dealing with these legal formalities, you may encounter issues that cause a delay in the case. Additionally, working with an experienced child custody lawyer can help you avoid costly mistakes. A skilled child custody lawyer can manage your case properly and avoid making mistakes that can negatively impact your case.

Contact Us to Schedule a Confidential Consultation with a Cedar Rapids Family Lawyer

If you would like assistance with your Iowa child custody case, the experienced family law attorneys at 303 Legal, P.C., can help. We can review your case during a confidential consultation. We can discuss your legal options and devise a legal strategy based on the strengths of your case. Contact us today to get started.