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Understanding custody and placement in Iowa

On Behalf of | Sep 6, 2023 | Family Law

A divorce or breakup when children are involved is never easy. Sometimes parents can decide among themselves what type of custody arrangement works best, but that is not always the case.

Many times, parents want different things in terms of custody and end up in custody court. Before you talk with your co-parent about what you want, it helps to understand the difference between custody and placement and the factors a court uses when making decisions.

Legal custody

Legal custody refers to which parent makes major decisions for the child. Major decisions usually include decisions on topics such as education, healthcare and religion.

Courts generally award joint legal custody, which means that both you and your co-parent have an equal say in these decisions. You can request sole legal custody if you feel that you are the better parent to make these decisions, but you must be prepared to prove why.

Sole legal custody is usually given to a parent when extreme circumstances exist that show the other parent should not be able to make decisions for the child. Evidence of domestic violence, an untreated drug or alcohol addiction or long-term incarceration might be reasons a court grants one parent sole legal custody.

Physical placement

Physical placement refers to who the child lives with and when. A court can award joint physical placement or primary physical placement to one parent, with the other parent having partial physical placement.

Iowa law makes custody and placement decisions based on a “best interest of the child” standard, attempting to fashion an overall arrangement that is in your child’s best interest.

There is an assumption that it is in a child’s best interest to have meaningful and continuing contact with each parent, unless this causes the child physical or significant emotional harm. A court reviews several different factors when making these decisions.

Custody and placement factors

Some of these include which parent has actively cared for the child before the divorce or separation, how the parents communicate with each other and if each parent supports the other parent’s relationship with the child. Other factors involve practical matters, such as how close the parents live to each other.

Before heading into court, you might be required to attend custody mediation. This is a meeting between you, your co-parent and a mediator.

A mediator acts as a neutral third-party. Their goal is to help you and your co-parent listen to each other’s positions and try to reach a resolution. They do not take sides and do not have power to make custody orders like a judge does.

Mediation can be effective

There are many benefits to mediation. It is cheaper and quicker than traditional courtroom litigation and parents are usually happier with the outcome. It is usually best to try it.

If your mediation is unsuccessful, the next step is custody court. This is where you will present witnesses and evidence to a court about why the custody and placement schedule you want is in your child’s best interest.