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Changing Trends in Alimony and the Impact on Iowa Law (Part 2)

In Iowa, there are three types of spousal support that the court can award: traditional support, rehabilitative support, or reimbursement support. Traditional support is long-term, sometimes permanent, and is meant to support an ex-spouse for as long as they are dependent or incapable of self-support. In re Marriage of Schenkelberg, 824 N.W.2d 481, 487 (Iowa 2012). Iowa courts, especially in recent years, have awarded traditional support more often in long-term marriages when life patterns have been set and the earning potential (and disparity) of both spouses is more easily calculated. In re Marriage of Kurtt, 561 N.W.2d 385, 388 (Iowa Ct. App. 1997). Rehabilitative support is temporary and is meant to support an economically dependent ex-spouse during a period of re-education or re-training following a divorce. In re Marriage of Anliker, 694 N.W.2d 535, 540-41 (Iowa 2005). The goal of rehabilitative support is for the dependent spouse to reach economic self-sufficiency. Id. Reimbursement support is also temporary, and is typically awarded following a short-term marriage to compensate an ex-spouse for the economic sacrifices made that enhanced the educational or career advancements of the other spouse. In re Marriage of Francis, 442 N.W.2d 59, 62 (Iowa 1989).

When determining whether or not to award spousal support, which type, how much, and for how long, the courts follow a multi-factor test established by Iowa Code. The courts weigh all of the following factors when making their decision:

  1. The length of the marriage
  2. The age and physical and emotional health of each spouse
  3. The distribution of property made in the dissolution
  4. The educational level of each party at the time of marriage and the time of divorce
  5. The earning capacity of the party seeking support, including educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, length of absence from the job market, responsibilities for children, the time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education/training
  6. The feasibility of the party seeking support becoming self-sufficient at a standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage
  7. The tax consequences to each party
  8. Any mutual agreement made by the parties concerning financial or service contributions
  9. The provisions of an antenuptial agreement
  10. Other factors the court may determine to be relevant in an individual case

Iowa Code § 598.21A(1) (2012).

Though these guidelines can help predict if any spousal support will be awarded, there is no set formula in Iowa for determining how much support will be awarded. Iowa courts award spousal support based on a balance between the needs of the dependent spouse and the ability of the other spouse to pay. In re Marriage of Stark, 542 N.W.2d 260, 262-63 (Iowa Ct. App. 1995).

Iowa courts are careful to temper their spousal support determinations with the reminder that spousal support in Iowa “is not an absolute right, and an award thereof depends upon the circumstances of a particular case.” Schenkelberg, 824 N.W.2d at 486. Iowa, unlike many of the states pushing for reforms, has not automatically awarded permanent alimony for many years. The Iowa legislature eliminated the word “alimony” in favor of “support payments” in 1980, and the Iowa courts began determining awards of spousal support on a case-by-case basis in the 1970s. Sackett, Rosemary Shaw and Cheryl K. Munyon. Alimony: A Retreat from Traditional Concepts of Spousal Support, 35 Drake L. Rev. 297, 300 (1985-86).

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