Iowa Spousal Support: Moving Toward a Defined Approach

Oct 01, 2015

“Will I have to pay spousal support?” “Am I entitled to spousal support? “How much and for how long?” These are typical questions raised by dissolution clients from the initial consultation and throughout the case. These fair questions usually receive complicated answers. To begin with, there needs to be a discussion about which of the three types of spousal support might apply: traditional, rehabilitative, and/or reimbursement. Traditional spousal support is what most people think of when considering spousal support. This is the support for life at a set amount. Rehabilitative support is generally for a set period of time (e.g., 2-7 years) and is used to assist one spouse to obtain education or training such that he or she can be self-sufficient separate from the other spouse. Last, reimbursement support is paid by one spouse for the economic sacrifices made by the other, especially as it directly relates to the enhanced earning capacity of the spouse.

Spousal support is an ever-moving target. Unlike its more clearly defined colleague – child support – there are no simple mathematical formulas to determine the amount or duration of spousal support for divorces pending in Iowa. Rather, an attorney must argue for his or her client’s position based on statutorily defined factors. These factors, found at § 598.21A of the Iowa Code, include:

  1. The length of the marriage;
  2. The age and physical and emotional health of the parties;
  3. The distribution of property in the decree;
  4. The educational level of each party at the time of marriage and at the time the action commenced;
  5. The earning capacity of the party seeking the support, including education background, employment skills, work experience, length of absence from the job market, responsibilities for children under either an award of custody or physical care, and the time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party to find appropriate employment;
  6. The feasibility of the party seeking support becoming self-supporting at a standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage, and the length of time necessary to achieve this goal;
  7. The tax consequences to each party;
  8. Any mutual agreement made by the parties concerning financial or service contributions by one party with the expectation of future reciprocation or compensation by the other party;
  9. The provisions of an antenuptial agreement; and,
  10. Other factors the court may determine to be relevant in an individual case. 

As you can see, there are a number of factors that can be used to argue for or against an award of spousal support. All of these factors are deemed to be of equal importance and each request for spousal support should be given due consideration based upon the circumstances of that case alone. That being said, some factors are weighed more heavily, such as duration of marriage. This multifactor approach can result in inconsistent outcomes from case to case, which is often frustrating for clients and attorneys alike.

Some jurisdictions and interested organizations around the country have attempted to take the speculation out of spousal support awards. For instance, the state of Massachusetts enacted a law in 2011 that set duration limits based on the length of marriage or the date of retirement. Some jurisdictions, like Santa Clara, California, have attempted to create a mathematical formula for the amount and duration of support. Likewise, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) has also attempted to mathematically eliminate the guesswork for amount and duration of supporting a spouse.

Recently, the Supreme Court, in In re Marriage of Gust, provided a footnote that may herald a significant change in Iowa’s spousal support awards. In addressing a request for spousal support following a marriage of more than twenty years, the court addressed the initial award of spousal support. In finding no error in the amount entered by the trial court, the Supreme Court noted that the resolution on the issue was “consistent with the recommendations of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.” In re Marriage of Gust, 858 N.W.2d 402, 416 (Iowa 2015). The Court went on to explain that in marriages of more than twenty years, the AAML’s guideline approach of taking 30% of the payor’s gross income minus 20% of the payee’s gross income is a “useful reality check with respect to an award of traditional spousal support.” Id. While the Court has not formally adopted the AAML guideline, or any other similar guideline approach, its footnote in Gust appears to be signaling that a change is on the horizon. With little delay, the Iowa Court of Appeals, citing Gust and the AAML guidelines, supported a significant increase in spousal support from the district court’s initial award. See In re Marriage of Mauer, No. 14-0317 (Iowa App. 2015). Further, the Iowa Supreme Court has recently created a task force to address spousal support and potential guidelines to address this issue for Iowans. As the Iowa Supreme Court refines its positions on spousal support following Gust, it will be important to stay apprised of the ongoing developments. If you have any questions regarding spousal support or dissolution matters generally, please contact Kyle A. Sounhein at or 319-365-9101.

Tags: Family Law
Category: Family Law

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