Going through a divorce or simply ending a relationship is never easy, and having children makes it even harder. Know that you’re not alone in your struggle. In Iowa, divorced people make up 11 percent of the state’s population, according to 2018 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By proactively working with a family law attorney, you can help ensure that your family is cared for during this transition, especially when issues like child custody arise. 

At Rieper Law P.C., we have the resources and experience needed to assist families in establishing and modifying child custody orders. We proudly serve clients throughout Iowa, with the majority of our clients being located in Polk, Dallas, Warren, Madison, Jasper, and Story counties. Call us today to set up an appointment.



Establishing a Child Custody Arrangement

One of the most important tasks you and your ex-spouse or partner need to discuss is the proper child custody arrangement. If the two of you are on decent terms, you may be able to decide this together (or with the help of an attorney or mediator) and present an agreement to the court. As long as both parents agree to the terms, this will almost always be approved. 

However, it’s not always easy to talk with your ex, especially when it comes to sensitive topics like how much time each parent gets to spend with the children. In this case, you both may need to retain lawyers and take your case to family court. The judge, along with you, your ex-spouse, and your legal representatives, will determine a custody arrangement that’s best for your family. 

Whatever path you take, there are some legal designations you’ll need to understand:

  • Joint Legal Custody vs Sole Custody: Joint legal custody is generally preferred by judges, meaning both parents share equal decision-making power in their child’s life on matters like education, medical needs, and religion. Sole custody means only one parent legally makes these decisions, but it does not mean the non-custodial parent won’t have visitation rights. 

  • Legal Custody vs Physical Care: It’s important to note that joint legal custody is not the same as joint physical custody. A couple may share decision-making powers equally even if the child spends the majority of their time with only one parent. In addition to legal custody (decision making), you also must decide on physical custody (where the child lives). This is often split between the parents, but there’s no standard that all families must follow. 

When determining custody and parenting time, a judge will always act with the best interests of the child in mind. When possible, judges will work to ensure the child has regular and meaningful contact with both parents. This doesn’t always mean time will be split evenly since many details must be considered. Factors such as the age and maturity of the child, the living situation of each parent, whether the child has siblings, the ability of each parent to meet the child’s needs, and how well each parent supports the other and their involvement in the child’s life are all taken into account.

Modifying an Existing Child Custody Arrangement

If you already have an arrangement and wish to make a modification, you generally need a change in circumstances. Major life events, like moving or losing a job, will often qualify you to request a change. The same is true if the other parent isn’t upholding the arrangement. All modifications must be approved by the court which means either both parties agree to the changes and submit them for review, or if you can’t agree, you’ll have to enlist the help of attorneys or let the judge decide.

How Rieper Law P.C. Can Help

We know that each client is different, and we are responsive to their specific needs. We have worked with all kinds of families and know there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to deciding custody and parenting time. By listening to your individual needs and learning about your family, we can help you come up with a custody arrangement that you can feel good about moving forward. We act with empathy and understanding, without sacrificing your rights as a parent.


If you’re located in or around Des Moines, Iowa, and are looking for compassionate and experienced legal advice during this challenging time, call Rieper Law P.C. to talk. I specialize in family law and can help your family manage this transition toward a better future.