How to Calculate Child Support Payments in Iowa

Learn how to calculate child support in Iowa, when the amount of support may be different than the standard calculation, and how to apply for, collect, and modify child support.

By , Legal Editor

To calculate the amount of support under Iowa's current child support guidelines, you can use the official Iowa Child Support Estimator.

First, you'll need to know what your child custody arrangements will be, including which parent will have primary physical care of the children (usually referred to as the custodial parent) and the number of overnights that the children will spend with the noncustodial parent. If you're still negotiating custody, you might try multiple calculations under different scenarios.

Be aware, however, that the estimator won't work for parents who have joint physical care of their children, meaning that the kids live with both parents for a roughly equal amount of time. If this is your situation, you'll need to calculate support by using section VI of the child support worksheet (Form 1, which is at the end of the Iowa Child Support Guidelines).

You should also gather some basic financial information before doing the calculations, including both parents' income and your expenses for the child's health insurance coverage and work-related child care. (You can find the details on what counts as gross and net income in Rule 9.5 of the guidelines.)

Are Other Child Support Calculators Accurate?

Watch out for other websites with so-called child support calculators for Iowa. Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that these calculators are accurate and up-to-date. Iowa revises its child support guidelines regularly, and you usually can't tell whether any of these other websites have kept up with the latest changes or included all of the allowed deductions and credits.

It's best to stick with the official state estimator to get the most accurate calculation of the amount of child support you may pay or receive. But there's a reason Iowa uses the word "estimator" in its tool. The judge may order a different amount in your case (more on that below). Of course, the accuracy of the estimate will also depend on the accuracy of the information you provide.

When Child Support May Be Different Than the Guideline Calculation

Iowa presumes that the amount calculated under the guidelines is appropriate, but you may argue that a different amount would be better in your situation. Whether you and the child's other parent have agreed on a support amount that departs from the guideline or a judge decides for you, the judge will have to find that using the amount calculated under the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate under the specific circumstances in your case.

When judges find that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the guidelines allow a calculation of child support based on that parent's earning capacity rather than actual income.

(Iowa Child Support Guidelines, rule 9.11 (2024).)

How to Apply for Child Support in Iowa

Typically, you'll apply for child support as part of the process of filing for divorce in Iowa. You'll submit a completed child support worksheet along with your other divorce papers.

Outside of the context of divorce, you may get help with requesting support by applying for child support services with Iowa Child Support (ICS), part of the Iowa Department of Human Services. If needed, the ICS may help with establishing the child's legal paternity and locating absent parents.

How to Collect Child Support in Iowa

Child support is typically collected through income withholding. That way, the payments are deducted from the paychecks of the parent who owes support and are forwarded to the recipient parent. Iowa offers several ways of making child support payments when income withholding isn't appropriate (such as when a parent is self-employed).

If you're having trouble collecting support payments, the ICS can also help enforce court-ordered child support. Depending on how much the other parent owes, the agency has several collection methods, including reporting the debt to credit bureaus, intercepting income tax refunds, seizing money from bank accounts, placing liens on property (so the delinquent parent can't sell it or borrow money before paying off the debt), and suspending the parent's driver's or other licenses.

How to Change the Amount of Child Support

You may get help from the ICS to change the amount of your existing child support. There are different administrative processes for modifying child support, depending on the reason for the request and how long it's been since the existing order was issued or was last modified or reviewed:

  • When it's been more than two years, either parent may request a review and adjustment. If the review shows that a calculation of guideline support under your current circumstances is more than 20% different than the amount in your existing order, the agency will file a modification request with the courts.
  • If it's been more than two years, you may request a cost-of-living adjustment, which is a simpler process but requires a written agreement by both parents.
  • If it's been less than two years and either parent's net income has changed by at least 50%, either parent may request an administrative modification.

It can take several months to complete a review or administrative modification.

You also have the option of filing a modification motion directly with the courts. You'll need to prove that there has been a substantial change in circumstances, such as a parent's involuntary job loss or changes in the child's needs. The law will consider that you've met the changed-circumstances requirements when the calculated under the current guidelines is at least 10% higher or lower than the amount in your existing order. (Iowa Code § 598.21C (2024).)

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