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Serving Iowa Families Statewide

Do Mothers Always Get Primary Custody in Iowa?

Contrary to popular belief, mothers are not automatically given primary custody in Iowa. The Iowa courts recognize that fathers play just as important a role in their children's lives as mothers do. In fact, according to Iowa law, fathers have the same parental rights as mothers.

However, it is not uncommon for fathers to feel as if mothers are given precedence when it comes to child custody. Many people erroneously assume that children are better off with the mother, and fathers can feel as if they are forced to the sideline.

How Is Custody Determined in Iowa?

When making custody determinations, the Iowa courts first determine who has legal custody of the child. Legal custody refers to which parent is responsible for the child when making important decisions such as medical care, education, extracurricular activities, legal status, safety, and other major life issues. Legal custody can be either shared between both parents or awarded to just one parent. It is important to remember that just because one parent is awarded sole legal custody, it does not mean that that parent will automatically be given sole physical custody.

After the courts have determined legal custody, they will decide who will be awarded physical care of the child (also called physical custody). The courts may award one parent primary or sole custody. When this happens, the other parent is considered the non-custodial parent but may still be granted visitation. The courts may also award joint physical care. When parents are given joint physical custody, they share equal and regular care for the child.

Considerations when Determining Joint Custody

According to Iowa Code section 598.41(2)(a), the court must consider a parent's request for joint custody. During this process, the courts may also require both parents to participate in custody mediation to see if they can come to an agreement on their own.

As cited by this law, "the court shall consider the following factors:

  • Whether each parent would be a suitable custodian for the child
  • Whether the psychological and emotional needs and development of the child will suffer due to lack of active contact with and attention from both parents
  • Whether the parents can communicate with each other regarding the child's needs
  • Whether both parents have actively cared for the child before and since the separation
  • Whether each parent can support the other parent's relationship with the child
  • Whether the custody arrangement is in accord with the child's wishes or whether the child has a strong opposition, taking into consideration the child's age and maturity
  • Whether one or both of the parents agree or are opposed to joint custody
  • The geographic proximity of the parents"

The courts will also look at whether the child or other parent's safety is jeopardized by joint custody or by unsupervised or unrestricted visitation. Similarly, they will look at whether there is a history of domestic violence or abuse. Similarly, the courts also consider if a parent has allowed a person custody, control of, or unsupervised access to a child while knowing that that person is required to register or is on the sex offender registry.

To learn more about how custody is determined in Iowa, review the Iowa Courts' page on custody.

What Rights Do Fathers Have?

Even though state law does not privilege mothers over fathers, this misconception still persists. Unfortunately, the misguided belief that mothers are more important than fathers can be pervasive and can affect your custody case. Therefore, it is incredibly important that fathers understand their parental rights and work with a skilled, experienced attorney when dealing with custody matters or disputes.

Fathers have the following rights:

  • The right to appropriate and adequate visitation or custody
  • The right to participate in decisions regarding your child's welfare, medical needs, education, and religious upbringing
  • The right to an equitable, appropriate child support order
  • The right to petition the courts for necessary modifications to child support and child custody orders

When a father's rights are compromised, such as by unfair custody, visitation, or support order, fathers have the legal right to fight back and defend their rights in court. If your relationship with your child has suffered because of a violation of your parental rights, reach out to an experienced attorney for help. Additionally, if you believe you are a victim of parental alienation, speak with your lawyer right away.

At Hope Law Firm, we know how important it is to protect and preserve fathers' relationships with their children, and we have extensive experience handling fathers' rights cases in Iowa. We are prepared to use our knowledge to help you with your case.