Property division can be a major area of contention for divorcing couples. It can help to understand the basic approach the court will take when making decisions. However, each case is different, and unique circumstances can lead to an atypical determination.

Of course, couples may address property division outside of litigation. A prenuptial agreement can determine a plan for specific assets. Couples may also use mediation and other alternative dispute resolution strategies to come to an agreement. In most cases, the court will grant approval, but the law does not require them to do so.

Equitable distribution

Iowa is an equitable distribution state. This means that the court will not necessarily divide marital property in half. Judges evaluate a number of factor to establish a plan that is fair to both parties.

Factors judges evaluate

Important statutory factors include the length of the marriage, the tax effects of keeping or transferring an asset, which spouse acquired the asset and the relative contributions of the spouses to the marriage. Courts also consider the efforts and career sacrifices one spouse might have made to enable the other to progress.

Another important factor is each spouse’s relative earning capability, which can depend on age, health, education, experience and child care responsibilities. Courts also weigh ongoing child care, custody arrangements and support.

Marital and separate property

Generally, most property either spouse acquired during marriage is considered marital property and is therefore subject to division. Some property acquired before marriage is also considered marital. However, separate gifts or bequests are separate property, as are Social Security and veterans benefits. Pensions, on the other hand, are marital property and may require a Qualified Domestic Relations Order if the court decides to give the other spouse a portion of the benefits.

Debt

Judges adopt a similar approach to dividing marital debt. Even if a judge deems one spouse solely responsible for a debt, the lender may still be able to pursue repayment from both spouses.