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What Types of Child Custody Are There in Iowa?


In an Iowa family law matter involving children, speaking specifically about custodial rights and responsibilities of parents, there are two types: Sole legal custody (or custody) and joint legal custody (or joint custody). However, speaking in the broader sense about the roles of one or both parents in their child's life, a court will also make a determination concerning the child's physical care. As with custody, physical care can be awarded as sole or joint.

Let's look more closely at Iowa's definitions of physical care and child custody and the factors that affect the court's decisions when awarding either type.

Child Physical Care

Physical care refers to parents' rights and responsibilities concerning providing for their child's basic needs. If a court awards sole physical care, that means one parent is responsible for their child's routine care and maintaining a home for the child. Even if one parent has sole physical care, the other parent may still have legal custodial rights and responsibilities.

With joint physical care, rights and responsibilities are shared between parents regarding matters that include but are not limited to:

- Shared parenting time

- Providing a home for their child

- Taking care of their child's basic needs

Child Custody

Child custody concerns the custodial rights and responsibilities of one or both parents.

Custody decision-making matters include, but are not limited to the child's:

- Legal status

- Medical care

- Extracurricular activities

- Religious instruction

Under Iowa Code § 598.1(5), if one parent is awarded sole custodial rights and responsibilities, that is referred to as legal custody or custody. When both parents share these rights and responsibilities, that is joint custody or joint legal custody.

The court prefers to grant joint custody to ensure that the child has physical and emotional contact with both parents. The court may award joint legal custody and joint physical care.

When such happens, a clear plan must be in place detailing matters concerning:

- Where the child will live

- How parenting time will be divided

- How the parents will encourage the child to spend time with each

- How the parents will resolve disputes

How Does the Court Decide Whether One Parent Is Unfit to Have Custody?

As mentioned in the previous section, the court prefers to award joint custody. However, if it feels that such is not in the best interest of the child or may endanger the child's physical or emotional well-being, it may give custodial rights and responsibilities to one parent. When legal custody is awarded to one parent, the court must state that clear and convincing evidence supported the decision.

Factors that affect custody decisions include, but are not limited to:

- The suitability of the parents as custodians of the child

- The psychological and emotional impacts of granting sole or joint custody

- The ability of the parents to communicate with each other

- The level of care the parents provided before the separation

- The parent’s ability to support the child's relationship with the other parent

- The child's preferences (if the child is of appropriate age and maturity to express such)

- The parents' agreement concerning custody arrangements

- The parents' geographic locations

- The child's safety

- The parents' history of past domestic violence (if any)

- The parents' history of allowing a registered sex offender unsupervised access to the child (if any)

Iowa does not give preference to either parent in custody matters. Meaning courts do not favor the mother nor the father when making a decision. Rather, it does what is in the best interest of the child. Thus, the determination will be based on what will allow the child quality and frequent contact with their parent and not put the child's physical or emotional health at risk.

If you are going through a child custody matter in West Des Moines, contact TheLaw Offices of Mark R. Hinshaw at (515) 200-7571. We provide compassionate and experienced legal representation.