Legal Separation in Iowa: What You Need to Know

The judge holds figurines of the spouses who will go through the legal separation procedure

In Iowa, a legal separation is a legal process that allows married couples to live separately while remaining legally married. It provides a formal arrangement for issues such as child custody, visitation, and financial support, similar to a divorce. However, unlike a divorce, a legal separation does not dissolve the marriage. Couples who opt for a legal separation may choose to do so for various reasons, such as religious or personal beliefs.

Below, you can find out how to legally separate in Iowa, in what cases legal separation is a better option than a divorce, and what alternatives to legal separation are possible in the state.

Is There a Legal Separation in Iowa?

A woman is consulted about legal separation from her husband
Obtaining a legal separation in Iowa involves filing of appropriate paperwork, agreement on terms with the spouse, and court approval.

Marriage separation in Iowa is a legal action available for couples who want to live separately without applying for divorce but have court orders to regulate their relationship. Some spouses choose separation instead of divorce for religious reasons, while others don’t want to lose financial advantages, e.g., insurance benefits.

There are situations when partners undergo marital difficulties and need some time to figure out whether it is possible to save a marriage or whether it is better to start a divorce process. Some spouses agree to separate living to protect their kids from the traumatic divorce experience.

No matter what the reasoning is and whether you are going to reconcile in the future, it is legitimate for married people to live apart as long as they meet Iowa separation laws described below.

How to Legally Separate from Spouse

Women seeking information to legally separate from husband in Iowa
In Iowa, obtaining a legal separation is generally easier than a divorce.

To file for legal separation in Iowa, you need to ensure you comply with residency requirements. At least one spouse must reside in the state for a minimum of 1 year before filing. This requirement is the same for a divorce and for a legal separation.

After that, you can start preparing a set of documents and submit them to the Clerk of Court in the county where you reside. You can either visit the court in person to understand what documents are required or contact a lawyer, who will explain what forms to complete and help fill them out.

It’s also possible to use an eFiling system to send the papers to the court. However, you should check whether this option is available in your specific case and the county where you live. When filing forms, you have to pay a filing fee, which can vary from around $ 250 to $350 across the state.

According to Iowa laws, spouses applying for legal separation must complete a 90-day waiting period until their request can be approved. During this time, they may attend mediation sessions, if there are any possibilities of reconciliation, or parenting classes to ensure they understand how to sustain their children’s well-being while living separately.

After the waiting period is over, the judge will review your papers. You will get a signed Decree of Legal Separation if the court agrees with the terms of splitting specified in your documents. It will contain a detailed description of spouses’ rights and obligations concerning their children, finances, property, alimony, and any other issues outlined in a petition.

Difference Between Divorce and Legal Separation

Legal Separation vs Divorce in Iowa
FactorsDivorceLegal Separation
Marital StatusA divorce legally terminates marriage, so the individuals are no longer married once it’s finalized.Legal separation doesn’t end the marriage, so spouses remain legally married.
Obligations & BenefitsAccording to divorce laws in Iowa, spouses don’t have legal obligations to one another after a divorce, such as the right to inherit from each other or make medical decisions. They also lose certain benefits related to marriage, like spousal health insurance coverage.Spouses that are legally separated still maintain certain benefits and obligations. For example, they may have inheritance rights and be entitled to spousal health insurance coverage.
Remarriage PossibilityIndividuals are free to remarry if they choose to do so.While legally separated, individuals cannot remarry because they are still legally married to their spouse.
CostA divorce typically entails more expenses, especially if spouses can’t reach an agreement and start a contested proceeding. For instance, contested divorces may cost $5,000-$15,000, while uncontested ones are priced at $500 – $2,000, on average.A legal separation in Iowa may cost less than a divorce if spouses mutually agree to split and negotiate the terms of separation without third-party assistance. In such a case, the average cost of legal separation can be from $300-$500. If the lawyer is involved, the price will increase by several thousand dollars.

When Do You Need to Apply for Legal Separation?

There are situations when filing for legal separation in Iowa is a win-win option for both spouses because of the following:

  • Religious beliefs. Some spouses perceive a divorce as something sinful. For them, legal separation is a way to live apart while maintaining their marital status.
  • Necessity to reevaluate a marriage. Partners in doubt about the future of their marriage may opt for legal separation as a temporary measure to have some time to assess the possibility of reconciliation.
  • Financial and healthcare benefits. Preserving the legal marital status can benefit spouses who rely on each other’s financial support, healthcare coverage, etc.
  • Parenting consideration. Couples with minor kids may consider legal separation to establish a clear system for child custody and support. They will continue co-parenting without formally ending their marriage.
  • Cultural and social factors. In some communities, divorce is stigmatized. Legal separation is perceived as a more socially acceptable alternative to ending a marriage.

When Do You Need to Apply for Divorce?

Women holding an engagement ring while pondering the reasons for divorce
In Iowa, the “no-fault” divorce system means you don’t need specific reasons or grounds to file for divorce.

It happens that filing for legal separation in Iowa isn’t a valid option, and spouses decide to divorce because of:

  • Unfixable breakdown. When there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation, people choose divorce to formally end their marriage.
  • Abuse or domestic violence. Divorce is a reasonable option to protect one’s safety and well-being in situations involving physical, emotional, or psychological abuse.
  • The desire for a fresh start. Some people apply for divorce to have a fresh start, explore new relationships, or achieve independence.
  • End of a separation. If a couple has been legally separated and decides not to reconcile, they may choose to end their marriage completely through divorce.
  • Increased expenses. When applying for legal separation, spouses have to cover filing fees. If they eventually decide to divorce, they will need to pay the court fees again. So, couples that don’t want to spend extra may choose to divorce straight away. 

Alternatives to Legal Separation in Iowa

There are no specific legal alternatives to legal separation; it is a unique way to pause a marital relationship without ending it completely. Sometimes, couples settle their disputes and return to joint habitation, while others proceed with formal marriage dissolution as a more definitive alternative to end their marriage.

If you choose the second option and want to end your marriage as quickly as possible, it is recommended to apply for an uncontested divorce. The process is cheaper and faster than contested proceedings. Besides, you’ll be able to reach out to an Iowa online divorce service and order the needed divorce forms there for a small fee.