Iowa Parenting Plans and Custody Agreements

How do I make my Iowa parenting plan / child custody agreement?

You can write up your own parenting plan (on your own or with the other parent) or you can work with an attorney or legal professional and have them create it. If you don't want to pay the high cost of an attorney, and want to easily make your own agreement, you can use the Custody X Change software.

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How does the law affect my Iowa parenting plan / custody agreement?

When writing a parenting plan in the State of Iowa, it is important to be aware of the laws of the state and incorporate the aspects of those laws into the plan.

The Iowa Code outlines specific family law issues. State and federal precedent can also impact a family law case. If you aren't comfortable studying the case law, seek an attorney to help you with complicated custody issues.

Familiarize yourself with the law before you create a parenting plan. The Iowa Code is clearly written, easily accessible and an excellent reference.

The statutes pertaining to child custody and visitation are found in Chapter 598 of the Iowa Code, "Dissolution of Marriage and Domestic Relations" (PDF).

In Iowa, what does the court consider when ruling on a parenting plan?

The State of Iowa uses the best interest of a child as the ultimate determining factor when making decisions in family law cases involving children.

Iowa recognizes that it is in a child's best interests for the child to have meaningful, ongoing contact with both parents, and uses the following factors as a guide when defining the child's best interests when considering a custody arrangement (Iowa Code §§ 598.41.3):

  • The suitability of each parent to be a custodian for the child
  • The emotional needs and development of the child and whether or not the child would suffer from lack of contact with and attention from both of the parents
  • The ability of the parents to communicate with each other effectively about the child's needs
  • Whether both parents have actively participated in the care and nurturing of the child, both before and after the separation
  • The likeliness that a parent will encourage and foster the child's relationship with the other parent
  • The child's wishes as to a custodial preference, given the child is of adequate age and maturity to voice a valid opinion
  • The parents' preference as to custody of the child and whether or not they are in agreement
  • How close the parents live to each other
  • Whether or not an award of joint custody or unrestricted visitation would jeopardize the safety of the child, any other children, or the other parent
  • Any evidence of domestic violence or abuse

In Iowa, what should I know about the different types of custody?

Iowa law considers joint custody in almost every case, so you need to understand exactly what joint custody means in the state. Here is some information from Iowa Code §§ 598.41 about joint custody:

  • You can have joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or both.
  • Joint legal custody is the right and responsibility that parents have to make decisions about the child.
  • Joint physical custody refers to the physical care of the child and where the child lives.
  • On application of either parent, the court will consider granting joint custody even when the parents do not agree to joint custody.
  • Before ruling on joint custody in cases where the parents do not agree, the court can mandate that the parents go to mediation to work out a joint custody agreement.
  • The court may require the parents (either together or individually) to submit a proposed joint physical care parenting plan.
  • If joint legal custody is awarded to both parents, the court can award joint physical care upon the request of either parent.
  • If only one parent is awarded physical care, they must (if joint legal custody was granted) support the child's relationship with the other parent and create a schedule with liberal visitation rights.

A joint custody agreement gives both parents equal rights for making decisions for the child and for taking care of physical needs.

You can also have an agreement where the parents share decision-making responsibility and one parent primarily provides for the child's physical needs.

If you and the other parent agree on the custody arrangements, then the court will accept your agreement as the best one for the child.

If you and the other parent disagree about the custody arrangements, the court will determine the custody agreement for your situation. Either way, you will want to prepare and submit a proposed joint physical care parenting plan.

In Iowa, what is a "joint physical care parenting plan"?

Iowa law mentions a joint physical care parenting plan. As suggested by its name, this is for a joint physical care arrangement. If one parent has sole physical custody of the child, you won't have one.

If you and the other parent agree on custody, you can make your plan together, and the court may approve your custody agreement. If you do not agree, you will each make a plan and the court will decide which one (if any) to adopt.

What should I include in my Iowa parenting plan / custody agreement?

Here are the requirements for what should you should include in your Iowa custody plan:

  • Information about how the parents will make decisions affecting the child
  • Information about how the child's time will be divided between the parents and how each parent will facilitate the child's time with the other parent
  • The arrangements in addition to the court-ordered child support for the child's expenses
  • How the parents will resolve major changes or disagreements affecting the child including changes that arise due to the child's age and developmental needs
  • Any other issues the parents want to address in the plan

This is a good, basic guideline to follow as you make your agreement and plan. As you make each decision for your plan, you should base it on what is best for your child. When you go to court, you will need to explain how your plan benefits your child and meets your child's needs.

What else may I include in my Iowa parenting plan / custody agreement?

You may include as many stipulations in your parenting plan as you would like.

This could include a breakdown of how the responsibilities of raising the child should be divided or shared, a method in which to resolve any future disputes that may arise, details regarding the transportation of and communication with your child, and just about anything you can think of that would prevent future conflict and warrant a return to court.

Verbiage can be included in your parenting plan that offers the other parent additional time with your child in the event that one of you needs to make an impromptu child care arrangement. The other parent is not obligated to accept the offer, but should be asked prior to contacting an outside party for child care.

Taking the time to create a thought-out, organized parenting plan will benefit both you and your child. Making sure your plan supports the best interests of your child is the surest way to have it accepted by the court.

The top fifteen cities in Iowa (by population, US Census Bureau, 2008) are: Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Sioux City, Iowa City, Waterloo, Council Bluffs, Dubuque, Ames, West Des Moines, Ankeny, Urbandale, Cedar Falls, Marion, Bettendorf.

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