Des Moines Child Custody Lawyer

How Is Custody Decided in Iowa?

When deciding on legal and physical custody in Iowa, the courts will evaluate many factors to determine whether or not it would be best for the child to live with both parents. For example, in a case where a parent was violent or abusive in the home, joint physical care would not be in the child's best interests.

When establishing the custody arrangement best for the child, the court will consider:

  • The suitability of each parent to be a custodian
  • The psychological and emotional development of the child
  • The parents’ ability to communicate with each other about the child
  • Each parent’s level of care for the child before and since the separation
  • Whether each parent can support the other’s relationship with the child
  • The child’s wishes, taking into account the child’s age and maturity
  • Whether the parents agree to joint custody
  • The geographic proximity of the parents
  • The safety of the child or the other parent

Iowa law directs that when the court orders sole physical custody, it must also order liberal visitation rights for the noncustodial parent so that the child can have continuing physical and emotional contact with both parents. The court may restrict visitation if the court deems contact with the noncustodial parent is likely to harm the child.

Call our child custody lawyers in Des Moines at (515) 298-5056 for a free consultation.

Types of Child Custody in Iowa

In Iowa, there are two categories of rights and responsibilities that parents have regarding their minor children – legal custody and physical care.

Legal custody involves decision-making authority on issues that affect the child’s health, education, and welfare

  • Sole legal custody - Only one parent has been given legal authority to make these important decisions.
  • Joint legal custody -- Both parents are given the authority to make important decisions for the child's well-being. Iowa courts will tend to favor this arrangement if at all possible.
Iowa Physical Care Laws
  • Physical care — The duty to provide a safe environment for the child that includes adequate shelter, clothing, and nutrition
  • Joint physical care: Both parents have the right as well as the responsibility to provide a home for the child, routine care, and will both share parenting time. This arrangement tends to be favored as well, as it allows the child to maintain a bond and close relationship with each parent. The time spent with each parent may or may not be equal. In some cases, the courts may assign "primary physical care," where the child will live with that parent more often than the other. The other arrangement may be "joint physical care," which may be closer to an equal amount of time shared.

In Iowa, the legal process for child custody disputes typically involves the following steps:

  1. Filing a Petition: The process usually begins with one parent filing a petition for child custody with the appropriate court. This outlines their request for custody arrangements.
  2. Service of Process: The other parent must be officially notified of the legal proceedings. This is usually done through the service of legal documents, including the petition.
  3. Response: The non-filing parent has the opportunity to respond to the petition, either agreeing or contesting the proposed custody arrangements.
  4. Mediation: In some cases, the court may require mediation to help parents reach an agreement on custody and visitation without going to trial.
  5. Temporary Custody Orders: While the case is ongoing, the court may issue temporary custody orders to establish a stable environment for the child until a final decision is made.
  6. Discovery: Both parents may engage in the discovery process, exchanging relevant information and evidence related to their parenting abilities and the child's best interests.
  7. Evaluation or Assessment: The court may order a custody evaluation or assessment by a neutral third party, such as a social worker or psychologist, to help determine the best interests of the child.
  8. Trial: If an agreement cannot be reached through mediation, the case may proceed to trial. Each parent presents their case, and the court makes a decision based on the evidence presented.
  9. Final Order: The court issues a final custody order, outlining the legal and physical custody arrangements, visitation schedules, and any other relevant details.
  10. Enforcement and Modification: Both parents are expected to adhere to the court's orders. If circumstances change, either parent can request a modification of the custody arrangement.

Parental Relocation: Moving Away with the Child

The relocating parent must provide notice to the other parent and the court about the intended move. The notice should include the new address, the reason for the move, and a proposed revised visitation or custody schedule.

If the non-relocating parent objects to the move, they may file an objection with the court. This often triggers a court hearing to determine whether the move is in the child's best interests.

Iowa courts make decisions based on the best interests of the child. Factors considered include the child's relationship with each parent, the impact of the move on the child's well-being, and the reasons for the relocation.

The court will assess the reasons behind the relocation. If the move is for a legitimate purpose, it may be viewed more favorably.

Common reasons include:

  • Job Opportunities: Relocating for a new job or career advancement that significantly improves the relocating parent's financial stability may be viewed favorably.
  • Educational Opportunities: If the move is driven by educational opportunities for the relocating parent or the child, such as enrollment in a prestigious school or academic program, the court may be supportive.
  • Family Support: Relocating to be closer to extended family members who can provide emotional, financial, or practical support for both the parent and the child is often considered in the child's best interests.
  • Health Reasons: If the child or the relocating parent has health-related needs that can be better addressed in the new location, the court may be inclined to support the move.
  • Safety Concerns: If the current environment poses safety concerns for the child, such as a high crime rate or a history of domestic violence, a move to a safer location may be supported.
  • Cooperative Co-Parenting Plans: If the relocating parent presents a well-thought-out plan for maintaining a strong relationship between the child and the non-relocating parent through visitation schedules, communication plans, and other arrangements, the court may be more likely to support the move.
  • Child's Preferences: Depending on the child's age and maturity, their expressed preference to move may be taken into consideration.
  • Compliance with Court Orders: A parent who has a history of complying with court orders, including visitation and custody agreements, may be viewed more favorably in a relocation case.

The parent requesting the move typically bears the burden of proving that the relocation is in the child's best interests. The relocating parent must present a proposed revised custody and visitation schedule that accommodates the distance between the new location and the non-relocating parent's residence.

The court will evaluate how the move may impact the child's education and overall stability, including their ties to the community, friends, and extracurricular activities.

Protecting Parental Rights & Advancing Your Children’s Best Interests

Divorce can be very hard on your children, so when you have serious custody issues, your attorney must manage them with sensitivity and professionalism. At Hope Law Firm, we help parents assert their right to maintain a loving relationship with their children in a manner that truly advances the best interests of their children. We provide the information you need to select the best course of action for your circumstances, and we fight to achieve your goals.

When choosing a Des Moines child custody attorney, look for someone who is capable of asserting your rights, but is also motivated to protect your child from harm. At Hope Law Firm, we conduct ourselves professionally and implement strategies designed to minimize emotional turmoil for your child. When there is a clear danger of physical or emotional abuse, we help our clients obtain protective orders to safeguard their children. Hope Law Firm capably asserts your parental rights while safeguarding your child’s welfare. If you need advice on a custody issue or other family law matter, we are happy to offer a free consultation.

Call us at (515) 298-5056 or contact our office online and we will do our best to see you within 24 hours.

  • Child Custody: Understanding The Impact
  • How Can I Change a Child Custody or Visitation Order?