Going through a divorce is hard, no matter what the circumstances are. Adding a child to the mix can just make matters even more complicated. Undoubtedly, divorcing parents have many questions about the child custody process. Our West Des Moines child custody attorneys are here to answer your frequently asked questions about child custody in Iowa.
What Types of Custody Can Parents Have?
In Iowa, custody is broken down into two categories: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody defines the parent or parents that have the right to make decisions for the child. For example, a parent with legal custody would decide where the child attends school, where they live, medical decisions, and religious education.
On the other hand, physical custody refers to a parent's right to have the child live with them as well as provide a routine for the care of the child. Judges have the ability to award either type of custody to one or both parents, or in some cases, a combination of both.
How Do Courts Determine Custody?
When the court makes custody decisions, the judge's first priority is the best interests of the child, which means having the opportunity for the child to have maximum continuous physical and emotional contact with both parents as long as it is safe for the child and does not cause them emotional or physical harm.
While there are no specific factors judges in Iowa look at when determining custody, they will typically consider the following:
- What are the child's age, maturity level, and mental and physical health?
- What are the child's needs, including educational, social, material, and emotional needs?
- What are each parent's age, character, and mental and physical health?
- Does each parent have the ability to meet the child's needs?
- What is the relationship between the child and his or her parents?
- Has either parent denied or interfered with the child's ability to maintain a frequent and continuing relationship with the other parent?
- Has either parent committed any moral misconduct?
- Is the child is of sufficient age and maturity level? If so, the court can consider the child's preference for custody; however, their preference is not binding. It is only another factor to be considered.
In an Iowa custody case, the judge may appoint an independent investigator or an attorney to investigate the custody case's unique circumstances. This third party will evaluate the situation and make a report to recommend to the court. Judges take these evaluations very seriously when determining custody.
Can Child Custody Be Modified?
It depends. Courts strongly favor stability for the child as it is typically in their best interests. However, if one parent believes that the current order is not the best fit for the family anymore, they can request a modification review. For the court to consider making a modification, the parent will need to demonstrate that a modification is necessary due to a substantial change in circumstances and that it is also in the child's best interests.
What is Custody Mediation?
In some cases, the court may require the parents to go through mediation before they award custody. Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that allows each side to work together with the help of a neutral third party (a mediator) to come to a resolution without the need to go to court.
Do We Need to go to Court if we Have Already Agreed on Custody?
Yes. Regardless of whether you and your spouse have agreed on all the terms of your divorce and custody, the court must review and approve these terms first. The judge must sign off on the terms when finalizing the "decree of dissolution of marriage."
If you still have questions regarding custody or visitation, speak to a skilled West Des Moines family law attorney at Hope Law Firm today. Our team has the skill and experience to help you and your family through this difficult process. We will always put you and your children's best interests first.
Have another child custody question? Call us today at (515) 298-5056 to discuss with our Iowa child custody lawyers.