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What are Iowa Family Court Records?

Iowa family court records are official documents detailing the litigation processes of Iowa state family courts. Managed by the court clerks of various family courts, these records are primarily generated to provide an official account of the court’s processes. They typically hold general court case information including details of court actions, filed motions, court orders, judgments and decrees as well as all court-issued and accompanying conditions. Pursuant to Iowa public record laws, these records can be provided to interested people upon request. However, the right of public access to Iowa family court records is not absolute. As such, the eligibility requirements for accessing family court records generally varies depending on the requested record(s) and the judicial district where the case was heard.

What Cases are Heard by Iowa Family Courts?

The Iowa judicial system comprises four state courts of varying authorities. They include the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, the Iowa District Court and state Juvenile Courts. District Courts operate from the 8 judicial districts and serve as the state’s primary court of general jurisdiction. Iowa’s Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort, which entertains various trials and appeals, while the Iowa Court of Appeals is the state’s intermediate appellate court and the state’s second-highest courts. In keeping with this judicial stratification, family-related cases are generally entertained by the state’s district courts. The cases heard by Iowa’s family courts include:

  • Alimony/spousal support and child support cases
  • Cases pertaining to child adoption, custody and/or child visitation
  • Guardianship, minor emancipation, and related interventions
  • Matters relating to marriages, divorces, separation, and annulment
  • Domestic abuse/assault
  • Cases relating to wills, trusts and domestic financial rights and settlements

In the state of Iowa, family/domestic matters are entertained by the family law division of the state district courts. Thus, cases pertaining to domestic relations as well as selected probate cases typically proceed from one of Iowa’s district courts. Following the verdict of the district court, interested participants may request an appeal from the state court of Appeals or the Supreme Court, depending on the case type. While judgments issued by the Court of Appeals are subject to the review by the Supreme Court, the verdict issued by the Supreme Court is final.

What is Included in Iowa Family Court Records?

Iowa family court records are designed by the state judiciary to provide official accounts of the court’s litigation processes. As such, these records primarily contain general court case information. Given the unique processes employed by various courts, family court records may differ depending on the case type or the judicial district where the case was heard, or the concerned record custodian. Records often feature details of the case, such as personal information of the parties involved, the place and date the suit was originally filed, and details of the court proceedings including court actions and motions, motion arguments, witness statements/court appearances and filed evidence.

Additionally, family court records feature information pertaining to the court’s final verdict, details of any court-issued rights, as well as the conditions of any rights or settlements. Details of alimony settlements, spousal and child support as well as child custody, visitation or adoption rights are also indicated. Where the court’s original judgment is appealed to a higher court, details of the revised verdict are also included in the court record by the appellate court. This update may be made by the administrative arm of the appellate court.

Are Family Court Records Public in Iowa?

Pursuant to Iowa’s public record laws, family court records are provided to interested members of the public upon request. But while the state supports the right of the public to access these records, the right of public access to Iowa family court records is not absolute. All records which have been deemed public by state statutes can be accessed without additional permissions. However, selected records require additional authorization to access and may only be released following a court order. The following records are considered confidential in Iowa:

  • Records containing the personal and contact information of a minor or juvenile
  • Adoption records and documents filed child protective services and related institutions
  • Psychological and mental health evaluations filed as evidence or part of witness statements
  • Identifying information about domestic violence/assault victim
  • Records pertaining to parental rights, guardianship records, minor emancipation record
  • Income tax returns and documents detailing the financial status or property inventory of selected persons

In order to obtain the above-listed records, the requesting party must request and present a subpoena or court order from an Iowa-licensed judge.

How Do I Get Family Court Records in Iowa?

The state of Iowa provides a variety of channels through which family court records can be accessed. Generally, Iowa family court records can be accessed by interested and eligible persons through public terminals available in various courthouses across the state or by making mail-in requests to the record custodian. However, the protocol for accessing these records depends primarily on the case and the record custodian.

Additionally, publicly available records are accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching a specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:

  • The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
  • The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name

Third-party sites are not government-sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.

Both government websites and organizations may offer divorce and marriage records. Similarly, third party public record websites can also provide these types of records. But because third party organizations are not operated or sponsored by the government, record availability may vary. Further, marriage and Iowa divorce records are considered highly private and are often sealed, meaning availability of these types of records cannot be guaranteed.

How to Obtain Iowa Family Court Records Online

The Iowa state judiciary offers a number of solutions for accessing court records online. While most courts in the state operate independent online repositories containing records generated within their respective jurisdictions, the state-managed alternative allows interested persons to obtain court records generated across all participating state courts.

The Iowa Courts Online Search is a service provided by the Iowa Judicial Branch which offers remote online access to family court records generated by Iowa appellate courts and trial courts.

To use this portal, interested persons are required to register online by providing the requested information and preferred login information. Upon completing the registration, the registered user may perform up to 1,000 searches per calendar day.

Records can be obtained on the portal by performing an appellate court case search, a trial court case search, a paid search, or an advanced case search (either appellate or trial court). Cases searches require that the requestor provide some information regarding the cases. However, there are a limited number of fields available. Payment searches provide requestors with case information in exchange for a nominal payment while advance case searches allow users access to up-to-the-minute information. The information required to facilitate all searches includes the full name(s) of either or both parties, the place in which the case was heard as well as the case file number of the record (if known).

How to Make in-person Requests for Iowa Family Records

The Iowa state judiciary allows interested persons access to family court records following their in-person requests to the courthouse where the case was heard. In-person requests are especially recommended for persons interested in obtaining full court case information. Given the state’s restriction on electronically accessible records, all confidential or sealed court case information can only be accessed by making in-person requests to the record custodian. To request a record, interested persons are required to:

Locate the Record Custodian

Following Iowa public record laws, all court records are generated and maintained by the court clerk of the court where a case is heard. As such, records can only be obtained by confirming the judicial district in which the case was heard and locating the record custodian. Records are best found by considering the location in which the suit was filed, and the most current status of the case. Records of court cases that have been concluded are typically maintained by the clerk of the presiding court while records of cases appealed to a higher court may also be maintained by the administrative arm of the appellate court. To obtain information regarding court locations and contact details, interested persons may use the resources available on the Iowa Judicial Branch website.

Prepare the Requirements

After confirming the location of the record custodian, requestors are advised to inquire about any unique record retrieval processes for the judicial district where the case was filed/heard. Typically, the requesting party is expected to provide the information required to facilitate the record search that must be provided by the requestor. This includes the personal information of the plaintiff/defendant as well as the case, number, docket number or appellate file number of the record. The names of the litigants and details of the filing, and their respective state bar numbers may also be required. Where the record is confidential, the requestor will be required to obtain the required legal authorization for accessing the record of interest.

Make the Request

Requests are generally made during working hours to the office of the clerk of courts. However, requestors may be required to schedule their visit to the courthouse beforehand. In addition to general case information, the requesting party may also be required to present a government-issued photo ID or other forms of identification in order to confirm the eligibility of the requestor. Most record custodians also charge a standard search/copy fee depending on the record requested and the copies required.

How to Access Iowa Family Court Records via Mail

The Iowa state judiciary also allows interested persons to request and obtain family court records via U.S. mail. This requires sending a written query to the record custodian via mail. Typically, a written record request must be accompanied by a cheque or money order payment of any applicable fees as well as a copy of the requestor’s government-issued photo ID and a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Additional information regarding any unique requirements of the judicial districts may be obtained by contacting the office of the clerk of courts before making the request. The written request must contain the following.

  • The full name of the parties involved
  • General court case information
  • The case file number, docket number or appellate file number of the record
  • Details of the suit including the place and date it was filed
  • The legal representatives of either party
  • The name and contact information of the requesting party

How Do I Access Sealed Family Court Records in Iowa?

Family court records that are sealed by court order may be made available to eligible persons if the record is proven relevant for legal purposes or making financial claims. To obtain a sealed record, the interested party must challenge the record’s confidentiality by petitioning an Iowa licensed judge. Eligible requestors will be issued a court order authorizing their access to the record of interest.

Family Court Records can include marriage records and divorce records. These records contain personal information of those involved and their maintenance is critical should anyone involved wish to make changes. Because of this both marriage and divorce records can be considered more difficult to locate and obtain than other public records, and may not be available through government sources or third party public record websites.

Specialized Family Court Records

Along with maintaining records of trial transcripts, Iowa Family courts maintain a variety of court decrees and documents. These documents provide legal proof of a variety of court-issued rights and decrees including annulment, separation, and divorce, alimony and child support, adoption and child custody as well as authorization for will and trust fund execution. Like court records, some of these documents may be made available to interested and eligible persons.

How to Obtain Iowa Adoption Records

Following the provisions of chapter 600 of the Code of Iowa, adoption records are not public information. However, adult adoptees may access selected information if authorized by their birth and/or adoption records. Pursuant to the 1999 amendment of the law, adoptee, their birth parents and their adult biological siblings may access full adoption information. Requests for adoption records can be made to the Iowa Mutual Consent Voluntary Adoption Registry. Written requests must be made to:

Bureau of Vital Records

Iowa Department of Public Health

Lucas Office Building, 1st Floor

Des Moines, IA 50319

515–281–4944

How Do I Access Divorce Records in Iowa?

Iowa divorce records are managed by the court clerk for the court where the divorce was granted. These records are deemed public information and can be accessed by interested members of the public upon request. To obtain a divorce court record, the requestors must verify the judicial district and court where the divorce was granted. Requestors may then proceed to request the desired record in person, via mail or online. Requestors are required to provide information relevant to facilitating the record search. This includes the full names of the parties involved, the place and date where the divorce occurred and the case file number of the record (if known). In addition, requesters may be required to cover the cost of copying and certification (if applicable). Where the record has been deemed confidential or sealed on request from the record subject or the court, requestors may also be required to obtain written permissions from the subject of the record and/or a court order authorizing the release of the record.

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