Overview of Iowa Divorce Process and Timing
Iowa is a no-fault divorce state, which simply means that a spouse may request a divorce based on a breakdown in the relationship without any reasonable likelihood that it can be preserved. Therefore, the spouses do not have to blame each other for the divorce, and spouses do not have to defend themselves from allegations such as infidelity.
II. Getting Started
In Iowa, the term of art for the legal process of getting a divorce is "dissolution of marriage." To start an action for dissolution, one spouse must file a "Petition" and pay a filing fee of $185.00 at the appropriate County Courthouse. The non-filing spouse is then personally served with the dissolution Petition. The non-filing spouse has twenty days to answer the Petition before running the risk of having "default" proceedings started against him or her.
A Pre-trial Conference will usually be scheduled a few months (usually about 3 months) after the Petition is filed. At the Pre-trial Conference, the parties must file (1) an Affidavit of Financial Status, and if the parties have minor children, (2) a Child Support Guidelines Worksheet, and (3) a certificate of completion for a Children in the Middle class must be filed as well. An increasing number of Iowa counties, including Polk County and most of the counties in central Iowa, require the parties to attend mandatory mediation, which allows the parties to work through any disputed issues they may be able to resolve without Court involvement. Civil litigation is resolved short of trial on 90% or more of cases filed, and my experience is that the mandatory mediation required in family law matters is helpful in often resolving disputes short of trial.
III. Temporary Hearing
Litigation is a slow process, and often there are issues that need to be decided on a temporary or "emergency" basis, such as visitation, custody, child support, spousal support, and attorney’s fees. Generally, the temporary hearing cannot be set until a few weeks (at the soonest) to 2-3 months after an "answer" to a Petition is filed. If you set a temporary hearing and the issue is not resolved by consent, the counties that require mediation will also require mediation before your hearing.
From the time after filing and through the time of your scheduled trial, the Court permits the parties to engage in "discovery." In discovery, the parties exchange information to prepare for a trial. The discovery process involves a few different vehicles, with the most common being Interrogatories, or written questions that call for a detailed response. The parties can also submit Requests for Production, where the responding party is obligated to gather and produce any documents that relate to categories identified in the requests. The subject of discovery generally includes any issues that could be contested at trial: child custody, visitation, child support, alimony, and division of marital property.
V. Ninety Day Waiting Period
Before a dissolution can become final, the parties must wait 90 days from the date the Petition was filed. In some instances, the Court may waive the 90 day waiting period, but this is rare.
In the event you cannot reach a resolution with your spouse, the matter will be set for trial. The Time Standards for Case Processing passed by the Supreme Court require that Court Administration set domestic matters for trial within 9 months of the Petition’s filing. Often, trials are set outside of these standards for a variety of reasons – the Court’s availability, complex legal or factual issues that involve significant discovery, attorneys’ schedules, and the list goes on. It is not uncommon to see a matter pending 12-18 months before a trial. That said, well over 90% of these cases settle, so the odds are in your favor that trial will not be necessary.