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Child Custody

Child custody proceedings in Iowa pertain to the legal process by which paternity can be established and decisions are made regarding child custody, visitation (parenting time), and support. These proceedings are designed to determine the allocation of parental responsibilities and rights, ensuring that the best interests of the children are prioritized.

Key elements of child custody proceedings in Iowa include:
Legal Custody

Legal custody refers to the authority to make significant decisions regarding a child’s upbringing, including matters related to education, healthcare, extracurricular activities, religion, and legal status. Iowa courts may award joint legal custody, where both parents share decision-making responsibilities, or sole legal custody, where one parent has the authority.

Physical Care

Physical care involves determining where the child will reside and the visitation (parenting time) schedule. Iowa courts may grant shared physical care, where the child spends an equal number of overnights in a one-year time period with both parents, or primary physical care, where the child primarily resides with one parent and spends less than half of the time with the other parent in a one-year time period. 

Visitation (Parenting Time)

The court establishes a parenting time schedule outlining when each party will have overnight and non-overnight visitation (parenting time) with the child. The schedule aims to provide both parents with meaningful and ongoing relationships with their children.

Best Interests of the Child

Iowa law prioritizes the best interests of the child when determining custody arrangements. Factors considered include the child’s emotional and physical well-being, the parents’ ability to cooperate, the child’s adjustment to their community and school, and any history of domestic violence or substance abuse.


Iowa requires parents to participate in mediation to attempt to resolve custody disputes amicably. In the event mediation is unsuccessful, the parties still have the right to take their case to trial. See Mediation 

Guardian ad Litem

In some cases, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent the best interests of the child. A GAL does not provide legal advice and does not act as an attorney for the child. The GAL investigates the family situation and provides the court with recommendations about custody, visitation, and other matters related to the welfare of the child. 

Child and Family Reporter

In some cases, the court may appoint a child and family reporter (CFR) to gather information and report information to the court. The report then becomes part of the record. A CFR does not provide legal advice or act as an advocate or attorney for the child. Unless both parties agree and the court grants the parties’ request, a CFR is not authorized to make any recommendations. 

Differences Between GAL & CFR

While the GAL and CFR roles can appear to be very similar, they do have some notable differences:

A GAL can make recommendations, a CFR cannot (unless specifically authorized). 

A CFR writes a neutral report detailing the information gathered during their investigation that is then filed with the court, a GAL does not.

A GAL can participate in hearings and trials (e.g., file exhibits, call witnesses to testify, direct or cross-examine witnesses), a CFR cannot.

A CFR can be called as a witness and be subject to direct and cross examination by the parties (or the parties’ attorneys if represented), a GAL cannot. 


Custody arrangements can be modified if there is a change in circumstances. See Modifications


Iowa courts have mechanisms in place to enforce custody orders. Failure to comply with court-ordered custody arrangements may result in legal consequences for the noncompliant parent. See Contempt

Navigating child custody proceedings in Iowa can be complex, and it is often helpful for parents to seek the guidance of a family law attorney. Legal professionals can provide advice, represent parents in court, and work to ensure that the child’s best interests are upheld throughout the process.

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