Parents that file for divorce may often find themselves in a dispute over the custody of their minor child or children. The parents of a child who were never married and later separated may also have similar issues regarding the custody of their minor child or children. Although some parents who reside in the State of Iowa can work out an amicable agreement regarding custody or visitation, this is not often the case. The issues related to child custody in Iowa are often resolved in the courts.
One or both of the parents may seek the expertise of attorneys who have knowledge in the area of child custody laws in the state and have experience representing parents involved in child custody cases. It is important to note that while custody is often decided during divorce proceedings, this is not always the case. Several factors determine child custody in Iowa and any modifications of the court’s original child custody order.
Iowa Child Custody Basics
There is more than one type of child custody in Iowa that parents need to know about before they go to court on an issue of custody of their minor children. This is true whether the custody matter is addressed during divorce proceedings or whether parents who were never married want to seek custody of their children.
Some parents may believe that obtaining a court order that gives them custody of their children is as simple as going before the court and presenting their own personal negative opinion of the other parent. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The courts take the issue of child custody very seriously in the State of Iowa and abide by both federal and state laws. The court also considers many factors. There is also never a one-size-fits-all approach to deciding a case that concerns the custody of minor children.
Types of Child Custody in Iowa
One or both parents may file a case that seeks physical custody, legal custody, or both of these types of custody. Parents need to understand the differences between legal and physical custody and know the meaning of other factors, such as joint custody, related to the types of custody that a judge may award to the parents.
Legal custody of a minor child
Legal custody refers to the parent’s “legal custodial rights and responsibilities toward the child.” Iowa Code Section 598.1(5) also indicates that the legal responsibilities include, but are not limited to:
- Decisions that affect the child’s legal status
- Decisions related to the child’s medical care
- The decision making regarding the child’s education
- Decisions related to extracurricular activities
- Religious instruction decisions
The court may consider a request when one parent asks for sole legal custody. The court sometimes considers awarding sole legal custody to one parent based on several possible situations or reasons.
Some examples of when one of the parents receives sole legal custody include if the other parent is incarcerated, has a violent criminal history, has a history of abuse or neglect of the child or children. The decisions related to sole custody depend on the facts of each case and the results of any investigations that the courts order to determine if one parent may be the better parent to make legal decisions regarding the child.
Physical custody of a child
The court often decides factors related to the physical custody of children in divorce cases, dissolution, or cases where the parents are not married. The court decides the actual physical placement where the child or children will reside upon the court’s decision.
The parent responsible for the physical custody of the children maintains a home for them. The physical care statute, 598.1(7) also indicates that the parent who has the right and responsibility to maintain the home for the children also provides for the “routine care of the child.”
Does this sound confusing, given that the legal custody statutes indicate that the parent who has legal custody is responsible for making decisions related to the child’s care? Parents who trust in the legal representation of a child custody attorney who is experienced in child custody cases realize that their attorney will serve their best interests, including explaining terms and conditions related to child custody laws in Iowa.
The court may award the parents joint legal custody or joint physical care of their children in accordance with Iowa statutes. The court that issues an order for joint legal custody awards the legal custody of a minor child or children jointly to both parents.
Each parent has the legal custodial rights and responsibilities towards each child named in the case. Neither parent has any rights that are superior to the legal rights of the other parent.
Best Interest of the Child
The decisions related to child custody are based on the child’s best interests. The Iowa statutes indicate that the child’s best interest includes, but is not limited to, the opportunities for each child to have “maximum continuous physical and emotional contact possible with both parents.” The primary exception to this is unless “direct physical or emotional harm to the child” may potentially result from that contact.
Another exception to the parent having the maximum, continuous contact with their child, as afforded under Iowa law, is when one of the parents demonstrates a refusal to provide the opportunity without a just cause, which the law considers harmful to the best interest of a child.
Awarding custody based on the child’s best interest is a diversion from past decades when courts typically awarded custody of children to their mother. The mother often received custody of the children whether the parents were married or if they were separated or never married at all.
Factors that Determine Child Custody in Iowa
Some parents work out visitation and custody of the minor children on their own when they separate, whether or not the parents are married at the time. The court often makes decisions related to custody based on several factors. The court looks at both parents when considering which parent is the best option for awarding legal custody and for physical custody awards made by the court.
Some factors and questions that the court considers include:
- Which parent is best suitable to be a custodian to the child
- The parent who actively cared for the child since the parents separated or before the separation occurred
- Do both parents agree or oppose having joint custody of the child?
- Are the parents able to communicate with each other regarding the child’s needs?
- The safety of the child and the other parent if the court awards joint custody or unsupervised visitation
- Whether the child will experience harm to their emotional needs and development if they do not have ongoing active contact with both parents
The court also takes into consideration the geographic proximity of the parents. Iowa law allows the court to take under advisement when a parent who has joint custody or physical care and custody relocates the child’s residence one hundred fifty miles or more from the residence of the child when the court issued its initial custody order. The court may consider this type of move a “substantial change in circumstances.”
The court may modify the original custody order to preserve as closely as possible the existing relationship between the nonrelocating parent and the child or children. The modified order may include provisions for extended visitation, such as summer vacation, holidays, or other times as ordered by the court, along with regular telephone contact.
Suppose a parent who is initially awarded legal custody or physical care refuses to comply with a visitation order and demonstrates interference with the child’s access to the parent who was not awarded legal custody or has joint custody with the parent who has physical care. In that case, the court can order the parent who engages in visitation interference to post a bond with the court. The court will order the bond amount and inform the parent that the bond is to ensure their future compliance with the court-ordered visitation.
The wishes of the child are also taken into consideration. The child’s age and their ability to clearly communicate their wishes are some points possibly considered by the court.
Does all this sound confusing to you? Do you think you could go to court on your own and fight for the custody of your children? Speaking to an experienced attorney with child custody matters and having the representation of an attorney who knows the Iowa child custody laws and factors that determine custody can likely help you in your child custody case.
What Other Information Does the Court Use to Determine Child Custody?
The parents are not the only source of information that the courts consider when determining an award for custody of a minor child. The court may order an investigation to be conducted that helps the court decide which parent is best suited to have sole legal custody or if the parents can be successfully awarded joint custody.
Social service agencies, legal agencies, or court personnel also sometimes contribute to a child custody case in Iowa. Some of these persons or entities include a court-ordered Iowa Child and Family Reporter (CPR), child protective services, mental health professionals, or any other individual or agency that the court deems important to a particular case.
It is important to note that not every person or agency that the court sometimes uses will be involved in every child custody case. Each case is unique, as are the contributing factors and issues that may affect child custody. The court decides the matter of child custody for each case that comes before the court on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with Iowa child custody statutes.
The Child and Family Reporter
The Child and Family Reporter (CFR) has several responsibilities and must abide by the Iowa Standards of Practice for Child and Family Reporters in Child Custody Cases. These standards explain the role and duties of the CFR.
The court appointed the Child and Family Reporter to gather factual information in a child custody case and then report that information to the court.
The CFR remains impartial and avoids any conflict of interest. Parents should note that the CFR does not act in the capacity of an advocate or a lawyer for the case.
Child Protective Services and other agencies
Do the parents have prior contact with Iowa Child Protective Services? The court may consider any current or previous case and any reports submitted by employees of the agency.
The court may also consider any information provided by other agencies that may have a bearing on a child custody case.
Contact Us to Hire an Experienced Iowa Child Custody Lawyer
Are you going through a divorce and want to obtain an order that awards you joint custody or sole legal custody of your child? Do you want a court order that awards you sole legal or physical custody and care of your child even though you never married the other parent? Perhaps you want to modify an initial child custody order or need help with an issue that is a substantial change in circumstances.
You likely have many questions and need additional information about child custody laws and procedures in Iowa. An experienced lawyer with comprehensive knowledge of the child custody statutes and the many factors that determine child custody can help you. Hiring an attorney helps you seek the best possible outcome in your child custody case and address the court to obtain an award in the best interest of the child.
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