Divorce is never an easy process, especially when you have children involved. Custody decisions can be extremely difficult to ascertain. Often, these decisions are left up to judges who try their best to suit a child's needs. As part of this decision, they can consider the child’s wishes.
In this article, we broadly explain Iowa’s general approach to child custody, then we directly address whether a child can choose which parent receives custody.
Overview of Iowa’s Child Custody Laws
In Iowa, child custody is based on the best interests of the child.
The court will consider various factors, such as:
- The child's preference
- The child's relationship with each parent
- Any history of domestic abuse or neglect
- The mental and physical health of each parent
The court may grant joint custody, shared by both parents, or sole custody, granted to only one parent
Legal custody refers to decision-making responsibilities, and physical custody refers to having the children for extended periods. Parents can share these forms of custody in a variety of ways, or both can go to only one parent.
If one parent has sole physical custody, the other parent may still be entitled to visitation. This is a period when parents can spend time with their children, sometimes alone, with the expectation that they will bring them back home.
The Role of a Child’s Wishes in Iowa Custody Decisions
You may have noticed the phrase “child’s preference” in the list above. You may also have noticed that it is only one of the many factors a court considers in a custody decision.
In Iowa, children do not have the legal right to autonomously choose one parent over another in a divorce. Generally speaking, the court decides who will become the custodial parent after reviewing all the evidence. Ultimately, it wants what is in the best interests of the child, and it may not completely trust a child’s wishes. For instance, the child may want to live with the parent who never disciplines them and lets them do whatever they want. Chances are, the court will not consider this best for the child, especially if the child has a bad discipline record at school.
Petitioning for Child Custody
When petitioning for custody, be sure to arm yourself with as much information as possible. Research the evidence you need, and work with your attorney to build a solid case. You must convince the court that staying with you is in the best interests of the child(ren).
Your evidence should include:
- Any record of addiction or criminal behavior on the other parent’s part.
- Any evidence of your ability to build a healthy and supportive environment, such as testimonials from family, friends, and co-workers.
- Documentation of any instances of domestic violence or neglect by the other parent, such as police reports, medical records, or testimonies from witnesses.
- Evidence of emotional and financial stability, such as employment and income records, proof of housing and steady housing, and character references.
- Documentation of medical, psychological, or other treatment. These evaluations could help reveal health or mental issues, either of the child or the other parent.
- Documentation of your involvement in your children's lives, such as school and extracurricular activity records, appointments, care-taking documentation, emails, and text messages.
Consult with an attorney who can weigh the strongest claims to present to the judge.
The Law Offices of Mark R. Hinshaw, PLC can help you reach a fair, constructive custody agreement that benefits the children. For a free consultation, contact our firm online or call us today at (515) 200-7571.