Child Custody Decisions in Iowa

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 What are the Different Types of Custody Arrangements in Iowa?

Iowa defines custody or legal rights as parents’ rights and responsibilities towards their children. According to Iowa laws, the rights and responsibilities of legal custody consist of making decisions regarding the child’s legal status, medical care, education, safety, extracurricular activities, religious instruction, and other major life decisions.

Keep in mind that a court may grant joint or sole legal custody. Joint custody means the legal responsibility of a minor child is shared equally between the parents, and neither parent has legal custodial rights superior to those of the other parent.

Additionally, joint custody does not necessarily mean that the child must spend equal time with or live with both parents. Moreover, sole legal custody translates to only one parent having the legal responsibility of a minor child. Sole legal custody is awarded if a court determines that it would be better for one parent to make the decisions for the child.

Iowa law mandates that the court evaluate the child’s best interest and order a custody arrangement accordingly. This will allow the child to continue physical and emotional contact with both parents after the parents have separated and dissolved the marriage. It will also 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 happen.

In general, custody refers to where the child resides (physical custody) and which parent makes most decisions about the child (legal custody). These apply to all parents, whether married or not. Joint legal custody means both parents have a right to assist in making decisions about the child. These decisions may include education, medical care, legal status, activities, religious instruction, and other matters.

Furthermore, Iowa law does favor joint legal custody. Sole legal custody means one parent has the right to make decisions about the child, as mentioned earlier. A court may believe it will be better for the child to have one parent making the decisions. The court must state that there is clear and convincing evidence that joint custody is unreasonable, which means that it is not in the child’s best interest.

Physical custody or physical care means the right and responsibility to maintain a home for the minor child and provide for the child’s routine care. Joint physical care means an award of physical care to both joint legal custodial parents. Both parents have rights and responsibilities toward the child, such as shared parenting time, maintaining homes for the child, and providing routine care, as mentioned earlier. It is important to note that neither parent has rights superior to those of the other parents.

How Does a Judge Decide on Joint Custody in Iowa?

When determining the joint custody arrangement that is best suitable for the child, the court must consider the following:

  • Whether each parent would be a suitable custodian for the child;
  • Whether the psychological and emotional needs and development of the child will suffer due to lack of active contact with and attention from both parents;
  • Whether the parents can communicate with each other concerning the child’s needs;
  • Whether both parents have actively cared for the child before and since the separation;
  • Whether each parent can support the other’s relationship with the child;
  • Whether the custody arrangement is in agreement with the child’s wishes or whether the child has strong opposition, taking into account the child’s age and maturity;
  • Whether one or both parents agree or are opposed to joint custody;
  • The geographic proximity of the parents;
  • Whether the safety of the child, other children, or the other parent will be jeopardized by an award of joint custody or by unsupervised or unrestricted supervision;
  • Whether a history of domestic abuse exists; and
  • Whether a parent has permitted a person custody or control of, or unsupervised access to, a child after knowing that person is a registered sex offender.

What About the Physical Placement of My Child?

After the court decides on legal custody, the court will decide on the physical care arrangement. “Physical placement” refers to the parental home where the child will reside regularly. The parent living with the child is referred to as a “custodial parent,” and the other parent is called the “non-custodial” parent. When a child has been placed within your physical care, you are responsible for managing the day-to-day decisions that impact the child.

Moreover, the court may also permit the parties to have “joint physical care.” Under this arrangement, both parties share equal and regular care for the child. Similar to joint custody, neither parent has physical care rights above the other parent. If the court grants joint custody to both parents, the court may award joint physical care upon the request of either parent.

What Does a Court Consider in Awarding Sole Custody?

A court will consider these things (among others) to decide on sole custody:

  • A parent’s immoral behavior that is harmful to the child;
  • A parent’s mental illness if this will interfere with the child’s health, safety, or welfare;
  • A parent’s substance abuse (alcohol or drugs);
  • A parent who is violent or abusive;
  • Joint custody will not work well for the parents; and
  • A history of domestic abuse in the relationship of the parents.

How Does the Court Decide Who Will Obtain Primary Child Custody?

The court evaluates many factors in deciding who will have primary physical care. It is difficult to weigh which factors are most important to the court. The factors the court examines include the following:

  • Facts about the child such as the age, maturity, mental and physical health;
  • The needs of the child such as emotional, social, moral, material, and educational needs;
  • Facts about each parent, including age, stability, mental health, physical health, and character;
  • The interest and ability of each parent to provide for all of the needs of the child;
  • The relationship between each parent and the child;
  • The relationship between the child and any siblings of the family;
  • The impact on the child if the court continues or changes the custody arrangement;
  • The home environment that the child will be residing in;
  • The court may examine whether one party frequently moves from one home to another while the other party has resided at the same place for a longer time; and
  • Where the child wants to live.

The importance the court gives this fact depends on how old and mature the child is. The court considers any recommendations from an independent person who investigated both parties about who should receive primary physical care. Also, consider any recommendations for an attorney representing the child.

Moreover, any other piece of information that was granted to the court. The parent with whom the child resides is often referred to as the custodial parent. The other parent is called the non-custodial parent.

When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?

If you live in Iowa and are dealing with child custody issues, do not hesitate to contact your local Iowa child custody lawyer to assist you with the process. Your attorney can provide you with the legal advice and representation needed for your child custody case.

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