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Shared Parenting Laws

Date posted - March 12, 2014

There has been a lot of news lately about South Dakota working on a shared parenting law based on the standards set by Iowa’s laws in 2004. For those not familiar here is copied from




In 2004, there was an important change in Iowa child custody law. Prior to July 1, 2004, a kind of custody called “joint physical care” was rare but, because of the change in 2004, it has become more common. Since it is now more likely for parents involved in a custody dispute to be dealing with joint physical care, it makes sense to have a basic understanding of this kind of custody. What is joint physical care? How might parents end up with this kind of arrangement? How does it affect child support? Before answering these questions, this resource will answer some basic questions about Iowa custody law that will help you to understand joint physical care.


What are the main types of custody in Iowa? There are two basic types of child custody – legal custody and physical care (also called physical custody).


What is legal custody? Legal custody is the right to ask questions about, and make decisions about important matters concerning, children. If a court awards joint legal custody, each parent has an equal right to participate in decision-making about the child’s education, health care, religious instruction, and other similar issues. Joint legal custody is common. The alternative is sole legal custody, which is often ordered when the parents cannot communicate well or when it may be dangerous for them to communicate. Sole legal custody means only one parent has the right to make these decisions.


What is physical care? If a parent has legal custody rights, it does not necessarily mean that the parent has the right to have the child live with him or her. The court must decide, as a separate issue, physical care – which parent the child will live with. It is possible for a court to award both parents joint physical care.


What is primary physical care? Primary physical care is the kind of “custody” people typically think about in divorce and custody cases. The parent with primary physical care has the child living with him or her most of the time. The other parent generally has visitation rights with the child.


So, what is joint physical care? Joint physical care generally means that the child will live with each parent about half the time. Each parent has the right and responsibility to provide a home and routine care for the child when the child is living with him or her.


How might parents end up with a joint physical care arrangement? The parents could agree to joint physical care. Even if the parents do not agree to joint physical care, the court may still order it. If the parents are granted joint legal custody, the court may award joint physical care if one parent requests it and the court decides it is in the best interests of the child. The court is always supposed to make decisions that are in the best interests of the child. If the court denies the request for joint physical care, the court must to say specifically why it believes joint physical care is not in the best interests of the child. This is one of the changes that was made to the law in 2004.


Does the court have to award joint physical custody? When the law was changed in 2004, some people believed that it required the court to award joint physical care unless there were good reasons not to do so. However, the Iowa Court of Appeals has decided that the law does not mean that. The Court said joint physical care is simply one of the choices that the court has. Joint physical custody may be a good choice when it is in the child’s best interests and the parents are able to communicate and cooperate with each other.


What is a joint physical care parenting plan? Sometimes the court wants to know how the parents plan to carry out joint physical care. Then the court may require the parents to submit a proposed joint physical care parenting plan. This plan is supposed to show things like how the parents will make decisions affecting the child, how the parents will each provide a home for the child, how the child’s time will be divided between the parents, and how each parent will help the child spend time with the other parent. It would also explain how the child’s expenses will be paid for and how the parents will resolve major issues affecting the child. The court may want the parents to talk about other things in the joint physical care parenting plan.


How does joint physical care affect child support? When the court orders joint physical care, child support is still supposed to be ordered. This usually works out so that the parent who earns more financially assists the other parent in caring for the child. So that a fair calculation is reached, the Iowa courts generally calculate child support like this: The court figures out what each parent would have been ordered to pay if the other parent had been awarded primary physical care. Then, these two numbers are “offset” by subtracting the smaller from the larger. The parent who would have had to pay more support is usually ordered to pay this offset amount. The amount may be varied in some circumstances.


An example would probably be helpful. Say John and Jane are awarded joint physical care of their son, Joe. The court first assumes (pretends) that Jane was awarded primary physical care of Joe and calculates John’s traditional child support obligation. Say it works out to $400 per month. Then the court assumes that John was awarded primary physical care of Joe and calculates Jane’s traditional child support obligation. Say hers works out to $250 per month. The court offsets the two numbers by subtracting the $250 from the $400. This equals $150, and John is ordered to pay $150 per month as part of the joint physical care arrangement. Usually this means Dad’s get the short end of the stick. As a stepparent to 3 kids, I know first hand how this is. Dad is constantly told that his kids don’t want to see him or spend with him. But when the kids are dropped off for their weekend with Dad they are excited! They talk nonstop about the last 2 weeks of schoo, activities, things with friends, etc. Dad’s are left out of knowing when the kids are sick from school, when they are struggling in school. They don’t get to help with homework. They miss out on the growing up because Mom’s think they know best.


What are better ways to help families? Both parents are important. I think Iowa could do better than the minimal time most non-custodial parents get to parent their children. It’s not fair to kids and its not fair to Dad’s and I think Iowa can do better!

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20 Responses to “Shared Parenting Laws”

  1. Concerned says:

    I appreciate the definition of the law and yes, I agree with joint physical care IF the parents can communicate and get along. I see kids in the school system from broken homes all the time. Friday is the worst day for them because they have to go with the other parent and the parents create a lot of drama for the kids. You can tell it in the kids all day Friday. The fresher the visitation, the more tears that flow. Parents… if things aren’t going so well in the home, don’t think another child will make it better. Use birth control. Oh, singles too!

    • parent says:

      I agree that only responsible parents can have joint physical custody. Manipulitive parents have no place getting the majority of the time just because they think they are better. Love, in most times, created the children. And mutual respect for the children and the other parent should want to continue this. Even if you are divorced. Even if the other parent remarried. Even if the other one would rather be a child themselves. Set an example. Your children are watching.

      • Archer resident says:

        With your remarks about the other parent being a child themselves, I am guessing that you are a wife of a man that has remarried. Before you got remarried have you asked yourself how they communicated BEFORE you got married? Has he always been upfront about their conversations? Most cases (not always) the exs got along good, talked about the kids, and whats going on. I was friend with my ex before he got married. Then all of a sudden we couldn’t talk and she would have to hear our conversations. Only time we could talk with out her nose involved was when he was on lunch or driving home. And he would call then just so he wouldn’t have to hear her complain. No we didn’t talk about hooking up but we did Talk about OUR KIDS. And as far as bringing home a man every month that ends in jail… Single moms are trying to make it to. Sometimes you date and hit the jackpot and sometimes you don’t. And kids need ONE place they can go and say “its good to be home, now I can relax” And kids grow up, to a certain extent we can make them go to their other parents house but there comes a time when they have a life of their own and don’t want to. Its also our job as parents to let them grow up.

        • archer resident also says:

          If you were friends with your ex why get divorced? Why put your kids through a divorce? Sounds like you are selfish. Did you have 2 parents growing up? Are you the kind of woman who bad mouths dad and his wife until you need money or a babysitter? It takes a village to raise a child.

        • Angie says:

          Have you taken the time to get to know your husband’s new wife? Has he gotten to know a new person in your life? Or are you basing you decisions on emotion? Sometimes I wonder if kids wouldn’t be better off if divorced parents and blended family adults had mutual respect. Get together for a coffee or go to supper all together. Just try. Just a thought….

        • QUESTION says:

          Dear Archer Resident…. if you had or hav such a “great relationship” with your ex why are divorced? If you have respect for him or her should you also have respect for the person they have choose to start a life with? Why are you trying to make it like you are still married to your ex? If you can not effectively share your child with the person you created your child with, then maybe you shouldnt have them either. If you wanted to be a single parent, you should have never gotten married. If you cant show respect for your ex’s new spouse, you had better never have your children around a person you are dating or marry.

    • PARENT says:

      Don’t you think parents should be forced to communicate for the benefit of their children?

  2. Lee Ann says:

    I know that if two people can’t get along while living in the same house, you know those same two people won’t get along if they are living separately and interested in their own best interest, not the other’s.

    When I divorced, I liked the children to go to their father’s. Because I knew there was no safer place for those children to be, and I could go out to dances or parties without worrying about the children. And I knew that the ex may have been a lousy husband for me, but he was always a good father. I didn’t make a lot of money so he would buy school clothes or school supplies, great Christmas and birthday presents, and he called them during the week. So I never worried about their visitation.

    I think a lot of parents fear losing their children’s affection. Perhaps the new girlfriend scares the Mother. She needs to realize that nobody, ever, is going to take her place. The more someone tries to take away a child’s love for their Mother, the harder those children will fight for their Mom. Same with Fathers. I always told my children that the more people that love you, the better off you are. So I allowed them to have a good relationship with their stepmother.

    But unfortunately two parents that can’t communicate, don’t want to communicate and continue to want to punish the other, will make it difficult for the children. In an ideal world, both children would be encouraged to have a relationship with both parents. But I know it doesn’t always work that way.

  3. Archer resident says:

    Joint custody i belive can be worse for the children, jumping around from home to home everyother week or so. They need a stable enviroment, one home. And sounds like to me as you being a step parent to 3 kids, You might be feeling that it would be better for your spouse to see the kids, where i’m sure the kids are happy with the arrangement. or have you asked them their opnion? Why confuse the child, not having one stable house to call a home? Another thing your might be forgeting, as mush as the children love their dad, sometimes they don’t want to go because it was a busy week, have a birthday party they are gonna miss, kids stuff. Doesnt mean they love their dad any less, it just means they don’t want to go because they want to hangout with their friends. Comunication is a key factor. If something comes up the parents of the child ( not the step-parents, you are not in the custody decree, even though your the step parents, the decisions lie with the childs parents) They should talk and come up with a soulation.

    • PARENT says:

      How can a stable home include a mother who has a new boyfriend every month when the old one goes to jail? What the courts fail to see is that a mother is not always the most stable home available for children of divorced parents. A true mother would let the father know when a child is sick from school. A true mother would let the father know when there are problems at school, when they go to the dr etc. A true mother would support a a childs relationship with their father. What kind of example are you setting when you are negative towards a possible step parent? It’s just one more person to love and support a child. This world is tough enough. Kids don’t need negative mothers who try and manipulate their children because they think they know what is best.

      • Derp says:

        100000% agree with you Parent.

      • Really? says:

        Who says their mother has a boyfriend every other week? Men do the same thing. In a perfect world everything would be equal. But it is not. And a step-parent is there not to replace the mom, but a lot of step-moms try to replace and take control. Not all. Don’t get me wrong, a step parents place is to help raise the child when the child is with them and be there for the child. the majority of the health care decisions SHOULD be with the child parents. Divorce happens and if the step-parent and the parent get divorced, that child will likely never see the step parent again. The childs parents should talk abd keep an open relationship, not listion to there new spouse on how things should be. Most moms have custody of the children because woman do the child rearing usually. Dads can date who they want when ever they want and no one complains about that right? A new girl every week…but the kids might not see it because the mom is shielding them from that.

        • Sioux County resident says:

          The commenter wasnt talking about STEP parent involvment. I think they were talking about custodial parents (mothers) communicating about their children to the noncustodial parent (fathers). You can bet that if Dad took the kids to the Dr and didnt tell Mom the poo would hit the fan.

          As a older child of divorced parents, I resent my mother for the way we were raised. In Jr high, I happened to walk in on a phone call my mom made to my dad about us not wanting to come over for the weekend. I always looked forward to my time with my dad and step mom. I was upset. My mom then proceeded to tell my younger siblings that Dad didnt want us for the weekend. Neither of which was true!

          My children are required to ask for permission to attend a birthday party, go skating, spend the night at a friend, see a movie, go to a ball game. They are not given a choice. They are children. They need to learn respect and dictating where they think they want to spend their weekends is not up to a child.

  4. Lee Ann says:

    Personally I think every divorce in court should include therapy for the parents involved to ensure that the kids have it as easy as possible. They could work on communication skills, getting along, even tho you are not happy about it. etc. You can force these people to go, but it doesn’t ensure that they are going to cooperate or even listen. Maybe emphasizing that it is for their children’s happiness. But both divorcing parent probably thinks what is best for the kids is what they think, not what the other partner thinks.

    there are a lot of divorces, a lot of single parents, a lot of disinterested parents, a lot of poverty, a lot of latch key children. Its very sad.

  5. Biker says:

    It is sad to see. Myself I don’t believe in divorce and remarriage…..last I checked that what the Bible was still teaching. Um something like adultery …..but let see where this goes in response to the op.

  6. Parents Rights says:

    It is not surprising that people try to argue with you about a very well presented topic. Parental Alienation is a game well known in the area.I too have seen the childish games parents play such as trying to have the kids run the show and make the decisions. (Like if they want to go to the noncustodial parents house or would rather have a slumber party.) They are CHILDREN and such decisions shouldn’t be up to them. Time with both parents is equally important. Of course there are certain circumstances in which exceptions are made.If being with the noncustodial parent poses a health or safety concern that is different. Not wanting to, or too busy, or not getting your child support that week or month or WHATEVER is not a valid reason to alienate a parent. Is it the nervousness of going to another house of the noncustodial parent as suggested by another reader the underlying cause for anxiety? Or is it the negative comments they heard all morning from the custodial parent badmouthing the other parent what is stressing them out? Bottom line is keeping children alienated from a parent, especially a parent who is constantly trying to be involved, doesn’t hurt the noncustodial parent near as much as it hurts the kids. Better believe children will grow up to realize and resent parents who participate in such juvenile activities. Also, I think anyone who tries to eliminate a parent should try to function without seeing the kids for weeks to months at a time and see how “ok” it really feels.

    • PARENT says:

      Perfectly said! I couldnt agree more.

    • Archer resident says:

      But KIDS GROW UP. At a certain age if they don’t want to go especially when they get older social life is important to them. It is our job to teach them right from wrong, our job to show them love our job, to teach them, and their job to grow up to be decent adults. Rules are important, and to older kids friendships are important. If the other parent is to insecure to realize that its not them they don’t want to see but they are growing up and need their space sometimes, the kids are used to the way things are, why rock the boat? And some kids don’t want their other parent to get mad so they ask the parent they live with to talk w the other parent and Automaticaly they become the bad person.

      • parent says:

        So… a non-custodial parent should just “give up” their time because they have a social life? Shouldnt something be worked out so that they can attend what they feel are important events and see their other parent as well? Or should a non-custodial parent just be out of luck because the custodial parent wont give up “their time” in compromise?

      • Parents Rights says:

        Yeah, why not take away from the limited time noncustodial parents (usually fathers so that is how I am going to refer to it from now on) have to let the kids socialize? Seriously? Most dads get every other weekend for visitations. So you do the math Friday after school to Sunday evening is about 2 days right? That’s four days a month. Can you imagine trying to make a strong parental impression in as little as 4 out of 30 days? That is 13% of the time. Also, fathers are just as able as mothers to do all care taking duties, along with allowing the kids to invite a friend over or taking them to an activity. But we should just allow the kids now to decide if they want to see friends or go to their dads right? That’s like asking the kids if they want to stay home and play or go to school. There are things kids need, parental interactions they need, but don’t necessarily understand all the time. They have friends that parents are still together so going to a slumber party or whatever doesn’t cut into the dad’s time. It isn’t fair, maybe, but it’s life. DADS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN FRIENDS TO ANY SANE ADULT. But since were letting kids call the shots, maybe they will just decide to stay with dad next time they come over. They don’t want to go back to mom’s. That would be ok according to you am I right?

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