In Iowa custody and divorce cases, the court can address custody, visitation, child support, and attorney fees on a temporary basis. In divorce cases, temporary financial matters such as spousal support and payment of bills can also be addressed. The purpose of the Temporary Matters hearing is to handle such issues on a short-term basis, so that the parties (and children, if any) do not suffer while awaiting the trial date. As an example Temporary Matters can allow a parent to see a child they would otherwise not see for months, or can allow a spouse who is without money for food or rent to obtain that money from their spouse while awaiting the completion of their divorce case. Pet-related matters can also be addressed at temporary matters.
Each of Iowa’s Judicial Districts have a slightly different procedure, but the basic idea is consistent across the state. For this article, I will discuss the Temporary Matters procedure employed in the Iowa 7th Judicial District, which includes Scott, Clinton, Muscatine, Cedar, and Jackson counties.
The Temporary Matters process begins with an Application for Temporary Matters being filed with the court and set for a non-evidentiary hearing. At that non-evidentiary hearing, the court will listen to the arguments of the attorneys and possibly enter a ruling on some or all aspects of the Temporary Matters request. Sometimes, the court will decide that there should be an evidentiary hearing, which is where the parties can testify and also submit other exhibits and affidavits to the court for consideration. If the court believes an evidentiary hearing is appropriate, then the court will set such a hearing, often a few week to a month later, and then issue a ruling as to the requested Temporary Matters.
Handling Temporary Matters the right way is important for a variety of reasons.
First and foremost, the “Temporary” ruling can last for quite some time, as divorce and custody cases can take many months (or even years in exceptional cases) to be concluded in Iowa, and the Temporary Matters ruling will generally be in effect for that entire time. The court is reluctant to re-hash Temporary issues, so even in cases where there is good cause to seek a change in a Temporary Matters ruling, it can be an uphill battle.
Additionally, a Temporary Matters ruling can sometimes give one party an advantage later in the case. For example, in a highly contested custody case, if a party wins temporary custody of the child at the beginning of the case, then it may be easier for that party to keep permanent custody later in the case. That is because the court often does not wish to disturb a child’s physical placement after the child has become accustomed to the situation. Similarly, a spousal support ruling that was entered after a temporary matters hearing may set the stage for more (or less) spousal support in the future.
Finally, a favorable outcome at the Temporary Matters hearing can help the opposing side see that the writing is on the wall, so to speak, which can in turn help the case get settled on terms the client finds to be agreeable, without having to proceed all the way to a trial.
Temporary Matters can be a powerful tool in a child custody or divorce case in Iowa. However, it is a tool that must be used carefully, as there is generally no ability to get a “do-over” and the consequences of Temporary Matters can last for quite some time.