Divorces, or dissolutions as they are referred to in Iowa, can be messy.  Not only is there an irreparable breakdown of the marital relationship, but also the couple needs to come to an agreement as to the custody of their children, if they had any, and the distribution of their property.  In Iowa, property will be divided according to what the court feels is equitable to both parties.  Equitable distribution is decided by the judge presiding over the dissolution case.  The judge will decide what is fair to both parties based on the facts and circumstances of their specific situation.

In Iowa, Iowa Code 598.21 controls the disposition of property in a dissolution.  Section 5 of 598.21 states the following in regards to property distribution:

 5.  Division of property.  The court shall divide all property, except inherited property or gifts received or expected by one party, equitably between the parties…

Although equitable distribution is meant to be fair to both parties, it does not mean an equal distribution of property.  One party may receive more or less than the other because of a certain fact or circumstance.  In deciding what is fair to the parties, the judge must take certain factors into consideration, which is what the rest of section 5 of Iowa Code 598.21 states:

a.  The length of the marriage.

b.  The property brought to the marriage by each party.

c.  The contribution of each party to the marriage, giving appropriate economic value to each party’s contribution in homemaking and child care services.

d.  The age and physical and emotional health of the parties.

e.  The contribution by one party to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other.

f.  The earning capacity of each party, including educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, length of absence from the job market, custodial responsibilities for children, and the time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party to become self-supporting at a standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage.

g.  The desirability of awarding the family home or the right to live in the family home for a reasonable period to the party having custody of the children, or if the parties have joint legal custody, to the party having physical care of the children.

h.  The amount and duration of an order granting support payments to either party pursuant to section 598.21A and whether the property division should be in lieu of such payments.

i.  Other economic circumstances of each party, including pension benefits, vested or unvested.  Future interests may be considered, but expectancies or interests arising from inherited or gifted property created under a will or other instrument under which the trustee, trustor, trust protector, or owner has the power to remove the party in question as a beneficiary, shall not be considered.

j.  The tax consequences to each party.

k.  Any written agreement made by the parties concerning property distribution.

l.  The provisions of an antenuptial agreement.

m.  Other factors the court may determine to be relevant in an individual case.

Once the judge has considered the factors in light of the specific facts and circumstances of the couple’s situation, he or she will make a ruling as to the distribution of property.

An important consideration in the equitable distribution of property in an Iowa dissolution is the distinction between marital and non-marital property.  Look for more on this distinction here on the Iowa Family Law Bulletin in the coming weeks!



As discussed in a previous post on the increasing use of technology in family law, people interested and involved in adoption are also making use of the internet.  The New York Times published a story a few months ago explaining the positives and negatives of using the internet as a resource in adopting a child.  The article referenced a study completed by  The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.  The Institute found both positive and negative effects of internet use on the adoption process.

Of course, the internet can serve as a wonderful and informative place to turn when researching adoption options.   There are hundreds, if not thousands, of personal blogs, articles and adoption stories online that can be an inspiration and a comfort to adopting families.  Adoption can be an extremely long, consuming and detailed process and these resources and advice can be invaluable to families looking to find out more about the adoption journey.  Additionally, many birth parents and their biological children have used the internet as a tool to reunite.  Others have used the internet to search out prospective adoption agencies or used the internet as a tool to complete research on the adoption laws in certain states or even other countries.  There are countless ways in which the internet can be used as a helpful place to turn when thinking of or going through adoption.

If you happen to be looking for information on adoption in Iowa, a reliable place to begin your research is in the law itself.  Iowa Code Chapter 600 controls adoption law in Iowa.  Here you will find information on adoption petitions, qualifications for filing for adoption, international adoption, closed adoption records, and much more.  However, adoption law and the process itself can be extremely complicated and it is always helpful to consult an attorney well-versed in Iowa adoption law before starting your adoption journey.

Internet use in adoptionHowever, as the Times story indicates, the internet can also prove to be a place where the unsuspecting can easily be taken advantage of.  The Donaldson Adoption Institute study describes cases in which fraudulent adoption agencies scammed thousands of dollars away from unsuspecting people simply attempting to gain more information about adoption.  Adoption is known as a very expensive process, and therefore makes it even easier for criminals to nab cash from people.

Another problem that crops up with internet access, and in particular Facebook and other social networking sites, is when adopted children attempt to contact their birth parents and vice versa.  This could lead to potentially dangerous situations of abusive or criminal biological parents, whose parental rights have been terminated, contacting their biological children and attempting to meet with them in person.  Internet access to biological parents and children can also prove problematic for the adoptive parents if they are caught unaware and have not prepared their course of action for this meeting.  The study tells of one case where a child was contacted and needed to attend therapy after the incident.

As with all things “internet”, there are positives and negatives on both ends of the spectrum.  The internet has clearly lead to many happy reunions, useful research sites, and legitimate adoption agencies where adoptive parents have found their new children.  However, it has also clearly led to crimes, sometimes dangerous, when not used cautiously.  What do you think?  Should there be more regulation of adoption websites?  Possibly some way to tell fraudulent sites from legitimate sites?  Should Facebook and other social networking sites put more effort into security measures, or should it be left up to parents to protect their children from who they may find?


Relationships can suffer greatly throughout the process of a divorce.  Obviously, there has already been a breakdown of the original relationship, and while navigating through the court process of the dissolution, happy feelings commonly deteriorate even further.  In cases involving children, emotions are likely to be even more strained.  Many people have issues with how the other spouse is caring for their child(ren), or maybe with the people they are exposing their children to.  Any number of problems can arise when something so important as people’s children are involved – especially when having to deal with one another face to face.

One solution that many are using to get around these testy interactions is technology.  The New York Times recently ran an article addressing this.  Couples, or rather, former couples are using texting, electronic calendars and email to communicate more than ever before.  Communicating electronically can help calm strained relationships by eliminating awkward or even angry run-ins with former spouses or significant others.

However, as the article points out, communicating electronically can also cause problems.  Tone and meaning can be lost when communicating by text or email.  Statements made in a joking or lighthearted manner may become mean-spirited and nasty if read in the wrong light.

Clearly, both positive and negative aspects can result from this new and increased use of technology.  Do you think it should be integrated even more into custody agreements?  Do you think parents should be able to set these communications up on their own, or should they be monitored closely by courts?  Is this a positive or negative development?


Within the last week, a Los Angeles judge ruled against a petition filed by Halle Berry to relocate her daughter with actor and model Gabriel Aubry, to France.  Aubry objected to Berry’s request.  Presumably, Berry wanted to relocate her daughter to France because of her engagement to actor Olivier Martinez.  Berry has also stated that France has stronger paparazzi laws, which would provide more protection for her daughter.

Child Custody Modification in Iowa

In Iowa, a child custody/visitation schedule may be modified by a court if the petitioning party show, by a preponderance of the evidence, there has been a substantial and material change in circumstances since the entry of the decree.  The changes need to be permanent in nature.  Also, the party attempting to switch the primary care of the child needs to show that they can provide superior care than the other parent.  The courts recognize the importance of stability in a child’s life, thus the burden for justifying a change in location is high.

“Once a physical care arrangement is established, the party seeking to modify it bears a heightened burden, and we will modify the arrangement only for most cogent reasons.”  Dale v. Pearson, 555 N.W.2d 243, 245 (Iowa Ct. App. 1996).

The court must also consider the following factors:

  1. Best interests of the children
  2. Child’s preference (but less weight in modification than in initial custody proceedings)
  3. Siblings should not be separated
  4. Conduct of the custodial parent (including whether the parent encourages and facilitates the child’s relationship with the other parent),including denial of visitation or contact.
  5. Stability for the Child

If Berry’s case were held in Iowa, she would need to show that her move to France is permanent, and that she can care for the child in a superior manner as compared to Aubry.  She must show that the move is material and substantial in nature. She then would have to overcome all of the additional factors the court must consider in a child custody modification case.  Examining all of these hurdles leads one to believe that, as her petition was unsuccessful in California, it would also be unsuccessful here in Iowa.



Recently, the Iowa Court of Appeals decided a case involving spousal support.  (The court also discussed the award of attorney fees and the husband’s child support obligation.)  The case, In Re the Marriage of Jeffrey A. Richter and Lisa M. Richter, involved a marriage that had produced four children.  The parties had appealed the decree entered in their dissolution, with both parties arguing that the spousal support awarded was incorrect.

Spousal Support in Iowa

The court explains the issue of spousal support in its decision:

Spousal support “is an allowance to the spouse in lieu of the legal obligation for support.” In re Marriage of Sjulin, 431 N.W.2d 773, 775 (Iowa 1988). Spousal support is a discretionary award dependent upon each party’s earning capacity and present standards of living, as well as the ability to pay and the relative need for support. See In re Marriage of Kurtt, 561 N.W.2d 385, 387 (Iowa Ct. App. 1997). Spousal support “is not an absolute right; an award depends on the circumstances of each particular case.” In re Marriage of Dieger, 584 N.W.2d 567, 570 (Iowa Ct. App. 1998).

Factors Considered by the Court in Awarding Spousal Support

The Iowa Code addresses spousal support in Section 598.21(A).  Here, the criteria for determining support are listed.  They are:

  1. The length of the marriage
  2. The age and physical and emotional health of the parties
  3. The distribution of property made in the dissolution
  4. The education level of each party at the time of the marriage and at the time the action is commenced
  5. The earning capacity of the party seeking maintenance
  6. The feasibility of the party seeking maintenance becoming self-supporting at a standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage
  7. The tax consequences
  8. Any mutual financial agreements between the parties
  9. Any antenuptial agreement
  10. Other factors the court determines relevant

As the court notes, they give “considerable discretion” to the district court in awarding alimony and will only decide differently than the district court when there has been a failure to do equity.

Spousal Support Decision

In this case, the husband has monthly income of approximately $10,000 and the wife has a monthly income of approximately $3000.  After monthly living expenses are considered, there was a $6000 difference between incomes.  The four children lived with the wife.  The district court decided that since the wife was awarded over $20,000 more in the distribution of property, that it was appropriate to award her less spousal support and for a shorter amount of time.  The court awarded her $2200 per month in traditional alimony for twelve years.

Both parties appealed this decision.  The court of appeals agreed with the district court’s award.

Factors in Determining Spousal Support

As in other cases determining spousal support, or alimony, the court took several of the factors listed in Iowa Code Section into consideration.  In affirming the ruling, the court noted that the marriage lasted twelve years.  The husband had a higher earning capacity than the wife.  There were four children produced during the marriage and the wife was working part-time, which was agreed upon at the time of the birth of their youngest child by both parties.  The wife’s employer provided a letter stating that there would be no full time work opportunities for the wife in the near future.

The court states that the amount of alimony is enough for the wife to continue caring for the children as they were cared for during the marriage and gives her time to become fully employed.




A case originating in Hamilton County Iowa was recently reviewed and decided by the Iowa Court of Appeals.  In their decision, the court affirmed the decision of the district court to deny the petitioner’s request to modify their dissolution decree.

Case Background

The original divorce decree involved in this case was entered in March of 1999.  The parties, Kevin Arndt and Shanon Green had two children during the course of their marriage, a son and a daughter.  In the decree, the couple agreed to joint legal custody with Shanon retaining physical care of the children.  However, the couple ended up alternating care of the children every two weeks.  Kevin was ordered to pay $300 in support every month in child support.

Modifications of the Dissolution Decree

There were several modifications made to the decree including one increase and one decrease to the amount of support Kevin was ordered to pay.  The modifications were made in 2001 and 2003.  There was also a modification to the custody arrangement of the children.  A second modification in 2003 ordered the couple to alternate care of the children on a weekly basis and neither was required to pay child support.

Shanon petitioned the court again in 2009 to modify the decree so that the physical care of the children be placed with her.  In order to modify the decree, Shanon was required to show a “substantial and material change in circumstances” had occurred.  She alleged that her ex-husband  was not exercising his weeks of childcare, that he had stopped communicating with her, and that he was failing to “properly guide” their son who was involved in delinquency proceedings at the time.

District Court’s Decision Regarding the Modification Petition

By the time the case actually came to trial, the parties had come to the agreement that their son should be placed in the physical care of Kevin, however, could not stipulate to the placement of their 15 year old daughter.  Because of the daughter’s age, her opinion was taken into consideration.  She liked being with her mother during the week because it accommodated her scheduled activities, however, was clear that she preferred being with her father when it did not interfere with her activities.

The District Court ruled that Shanon had not met her burden to establish material and substantial change in circumstances.  Shanon appealed to the Iowa Court of Appeals.

Iowa Child Custody Modification Law


“Once a physical care arrangement is established, the party seeking to modify it bears a heightened burden, and we will modify the arrangement only for most cogent reasons.”  Dale v. Pearson, 555 N.W.2d 243, 245 (Iowa Ct. App. 1996).

There is a high burden to meet if a party wants to modify a decree of the court.  The petitioner must establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the circumstances since the decree was entered have changed to substantially and materially that the children’s best interests necessitate a change to the decree.  The circumstances necessitating the change to the decree must not have already been considered by the court when the decree was entered and must not be temporary.

If the court decides that this first burden has been met, they will then decide if the petitioning party is able to care more effectively for the child.

Factors to be considered in modifying custody include:

  1. Best interests of the children
  2. Child’s preference (but less weight in modification than in initial custody proceedings)
  3. Siblings should not be separated
  4. Conduct of the custodial parent (including whether the parent encourages and facilitates the child’s relationship with the other parent),including denial of visitation or contact.
  5. Stability for the Child


IA Court of Appeals Decision

The court did not find the evidence supported a change in the share care arrangement of the parties.  Shanon failed to show a substantial and material change in circumstances to necessitate a modification to the dissolution decree.  The court did find evidence to support a modification to Kevin’s ordered amount of child support.  Kevin is now ordered to pay $173.13 in support of the two children.


Recently, the Des Moines Register published an article regarding two lawsuits filed against the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS).  The lawsuits allege that children in Iowa are being removed from their homes as a result of voluntary agreements signed by non-custodial parents.  Voluntary removal agreements are not part of any official court proceedings.  They are used outside of formal court supervision to remove children from reported harmful situations.

DHS explains that voluntary removal agreements are used as a first option in an attempt to place the child with relatives or foster care parents.  They believe that with the agreement being voluntary, DHS will be able to remove the child from any perceived harm more quickly than if they had to file a formal Child in Need of Assistance petition and have the child declared a ward of the state.


More Children Being Placed in Foster Care

There are, however, concerns about the voluntary removal process.  There are more foster care placements because of the voluntary agreements.  An Iowa City attorney, Natalie Cronk, has filed the aforementioned two lawsuits claiming that as a result of the voluntary agreements, children are being placed in foster care without proof that they were unsafe in their original home.  Cronk states that the burden of proof has shifted to the parents to prove that their home is unsafe, rather than DHS having to prove there are unsafe conditions in the home.

Non-Custodial Parents Signing Voluntary Removal Agreements

Also, a major concern with voluntary removal agreements is that non-custodial parents are allowed to sign them.  In the two lawsuits filed, non-custodial parents signed voluntary removal agreements causing the child to be removed from their custodial parents.  DHS states that they cannot know who has custody when they respond to allegations of abuse.

Voluntary Removal Agreements and Parents’ Rights

Cronk believes that voluntary removal agreements violate parents’ rights, however, parents sign them because they are at risk of losing their child permanently.  Another concern is the lack of court supervision and lack of representation with the agreements.  Children do not have their own guardian ad litems, and it is DHS social workers who make decisions rather than judges.  Some in the child welfare system are concerned because there are voluntary removal agreements being used in cases involving serious risks to children, including meth, sexual abuse and domestic violence.

DHS attempts to take parents’ rights into consideration by involving them in family team meetings.  These meetings involve all of the parties and involved professionals of a case together to make decisions about the child’s welfare.

Violation of Parents’ Rights or Focusing DHS Services?

The question raised by these two lawsuits is whether the voluntary removal agreements are a threat to parents’ rights or a way for DHS to better focus their attention on very high risk cases and provide attention to all children who need it in Iowa.

There has been a similar situation in Illinois where a class action lawsuit against the use of voluntary safety plans (Illinois’ equivalent to Iowa’s voluntary removal agreements).  The Family Defense Center out of Chicago won that case against the State of Illinois, however the decision was overturned by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals which ruled that any safety plan is voluntary under the law.




Although I hesitate to provide Kim Kardashian or her family any more attention than they already receive for their multiple television shows and daily media appearances, the divorce between Kim Kardashian and her husband Kris Humphries is a “real life” example of a recent post on Iowa Family Law Bulletin.  Many couples face the situation Kardashian and Humphries are currently experiencing, when only one person in the relationship wants to divorce.

Divorce v. Annulment

Unfortunately for Ms. Kardashian, Mr. Humphries appears to be stalling their divorce.  The couple was married in August of 2011.  Kardashian filed for divorce very soon after.  Kardashian is apparently hoping for a straightforward divorce, while Humphries is claiming that their wedding (which was televised and received much media scrutiny) was a fraud.  The couple had a prenuptial agreement and have no children together.  Arguably, their divorce litigation should not take this long.

Kardashian and her publicity/legal team claim foot-dragging and stall tactics by Humphries, including a strange choice by Humphries to deliver a deposition request to Kardashian’s current boyfriend, Kanye West, rather than the more accepted practice of delivery to his attorney’s office.  However, Humphries’ legal team argues that Kardashian has not produced certain financial records needed to prepare for depositions.

Iowa Annulment Law

In this particular situation, Humphries is requesting an annulment while Kardashian is requesting a divorce.  In Iowa, causes for an annulment are governed by Iowa Code Section 598.29.  This section states that a marriage may be annulled for the following causes:

  1.  Where the marriage between the parties is prohibited by law.
  2. Where either party was impotent at the time of marriage.
  3. Where either party had a husband or wife living at the time of the marriage, provided they have not, with a knowledge of such fact, lived and cohabited together after the death or marriage dissolution of the former spouse of such party.
  4. Where either party was a ward under a guardianship and was found by the court to lack the capacity to contract a valid marriage.

Fraud as a Cause for Annulment

Unfortunately, there is not much being reported on the specific legal argument Mr. Humphries is relying upon, however, it seems that he believes he was used by Kardashian for television ratings.  Kardashian says that she married Humphries for love, however, got “caught up in the hoopla.”

A trial is not expected in the case until next year, and it does not appear that a settlement is likely at this point.  One thing is certain – when and if there is a trial, there will be no lack of media coverage!


An editorial  in the Huffington Post, written by Micki McWade, a Collaborative Divorce Coach, Psychotherapist, Author and Parent Educator and Collaborative Trainer, addresses the issue of when one spouse has the desire to obtain a divorce and the other does not.  McWade suggests that only very rarely are divorces mutual decisions made by couples, and that it is much more likely that one person in the relationship desires a change.  The degree to which the non-consenting spouse resists can vary greatly however.

When one spouse wants to slow the divorce process, there are many avenues they can use to do so, however, all will most likely cause legal fees to skyrocket and their marital resources to diminish.  If there are children involved, this can cost them more than their financial security, but also their children’s.  It may also cause much more animosity throughout the divorce process which would also be unfortunate for any children involved.

Salvaging a Relationship Gone Bad

In her article, McWade addresses many of the emotional issues that are involved in a relationship where one party wants to divorce and the other does not.  She believes that if one party has already decided they want to divorce and do not want to make efforts to salvage the relationship, there is very little the other spouse can do to change their minds.  McWade suggests that the divorce-minded party may have already been in the divorce “state of mind” for a length of time.  Although the idea of a divorce may be shocking or overwhelming to the other party, it may be long overdue for the initiating spouse.

Iowa Divorce (Dissolution) Law

Iowa Divorce Conciliation Efforts and Waiting Periods

In her article, McWade also touches upon something that is reflected in Iowa divorce (or officially called, dissolution) law.  Even if one party resists in a divorce, if the other party desires a divorce, they will receive one.  In Iowa, a judge may require parties to participate in conciliation efforts for sixty days.  Also, there is a waiting period of ninety days between the initial dissolution petition and when the court can enter a final dissolution decree.  Although there are circumstances that allow a judge to waive the waiting period, it is generally enforced.

Iowa No-Fault Divorce

Additionally, Iowa is a “no-fault” divorce state.  This means that a spouse who wishes to obtain a divorce has no requirement to blame their spouse for any wrongdoing.  This allows the divorce to be (hopefully) less contentious and be completed more quickly.  This does not mean issues of wrongdoing will not arise in the divorce, especially if child custody issues are involved, however, it does mean that the petitioning party does not have to “accuse” their spouse of anything specific to obtain a divorce.


Clint Nass has appealed the decision of the Iowa District Court for Bremer County (in In Re the Marriage of Noel Ann Nass and Clint Lewis Nass) in regards to the physical care provision of the dissolution decree.  It is clear, from the Iowa Court of Appeal’s comments, that this divorce was filled with a fair amount of animosity.

The couple originally met when Noel was a senior in high school and Clint was 26 years old.  They shared a common bond of enjoying horseback riding.  After marrying in 2005, the couple opened a pet store.

Unfortunately, Clint and Noel experienced some troubling times in the next few years.  They suffered from the loss of their infant son shortly after his birth, as well as the birth of another premature baby.  Both the pet store the couple opened and their home were destroyed by a flood of the Cedar River in 2008.  They were forced to live in a garage with their 9 month old son.

Joint Legal Custody and Sole Physical Custody Awarded

Eventually, by working side and part time jobs, the couple was able to move to an acreage and have a home once again.  By the fall of 2009 however, the couple had separated.  Noel took primary care of the children because of the work schedule Clint chose at his employer, John Deere, 3rd shift (10:30pm to 7:00am).  He did, apparently, have a choice in the hours he worked.

The divorce trial lasted three days and resulted in the parties having joint legal custody of the children and Noel having physical care, with liberal visitation for Clint.  This decision is in keeping with Iowa child custody law.

Iowa law requires that the court, “insofar as is reasonable and in the best interests of the child,” shall order the custody award, including liberal visitation rights where appropriate, which will assure the child the opportunity for maximum continuing physical and emotional contact with both parents after the parents have separated and dissolved the marriage, and which will encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of raising the child unless physical harm or significant emotional harm to the child, other children, or a parent is likely to result from such contact with one parent.

Affirmation of Lower Court’s Child Custody Decision

In its analysis, the Court of Appeals dispenses quickly with any question of the lower court’s placement of physical care of the children, saying “she, quite simply, can minister more effectively to the long-range best interests of the children.”  In stating this however, the court of course considered the relevant factors from In re Marriage of Winter, 223 N.W.2d 165, 166-67.  The court made clear that it was “abundantly clear” that Noel had been the primary caregiver, even after the devastating loss of her first child, their business, and their home.  Clint’s time with the children was very limited even when they were in his care.  His mother, the children’s paternal grandmother, often cared for the children as a result of the work schedule Clint chose to maintain.

Throughout the divorce, Clint has refused to converse directly with Noel.  Despite this, Noel has continued to attempt to provide the children with quality time with their father.  This is important to the court, as they must consider  which parent will encourage the most contact by the noncustodial parent with the children in Iowa.  The court notes that Noel has cooperated with Clint under very trying circumstances and that Clint’s interest in the children did not arise until after the couple’s separation and “even then was continually diluted by his other, selfish interests.”

The court affirms, and wholeheartedly at that it seems, the decision of the lower court to have physical care of the children remain with Noel despite Clint’s arguments.  Noel was also awarded appellate attorney fees of $1500.