Iowa Domestic Violence Laws

Iowa punishes domestic violence (also called domestic abuse) by increasing the punishment for any assault that is committed between family or household members and by punishing any violation of a protective order issued for domestic abuse.

Family and household members include people who live together or have lived together in the past year, spouses who are divorced or separated, people who have children together, and people who have recently dated one another.

(Iowa Code § 236.2.)

Arrests for Domestic Assault

If an officer has probable cause to believe domestic abuse (an assault between family or household members) has occurred, the officer may arrest the defendant even without a warrant. Probable cause is merely a reasonable belief that a crime has occurred.

The officer must make an arrest if the officer has probable cause to believe domestic abuse has occurred and:

  • the victim has been injured
  • the defendant has a dangerous weapon, or
  • the defendant intended to cause serious bodily injury.

A serious injury is one that creates a risk of death, or causes permanent disfigurement or sustained impairment. For example, a knife wound to the chest would likely be considered a serious injury. A dangerous weapon is an object that is either designed to inflict death or injury or that is actually used with the intent to inflict death or injury and is capable of doing so. For example, a knife is a dangerous weapon, but a golf club could also be a dangerous weapon if used to inflict injury.

(Iowa Code § 236.12.)

Domestic Violence Protective Orders

A protective order (also called a restraining order) requires a defendant to stay away from and not contact the plaintiff. Victims can seek protective orders for themselves or on behalf of a minor child. A hearing should generally be held no less than five days and no more than 15 days after an application for a protective order is filed, but it can be held later to allow time for the defendant to obtain a lawyer.

After the hearing, the court may issue an order:

  • prohibiting the defendant from abusing, contacting, or coming near the plaintiff
  • granting possession of a shared residence to the plaintiff
  • awarding temporary custody or visitation
  • awarding financial support for the plaintiff or children
  • prohibiting the defendant from possessing firearms, ammunition, or certain other dangerous weapons
  • mandating professional counseling for plaintiff, defendant, and children, and
  • awarding attorney's fees to the plaintiff.

Generally, the order is good for one year, but it may be extended.

(Iowa Code §§ 236.5, 236.3.)

Temporary protective order

In certain circumstances, a judge can grant a temporary or emergency protective order before holding a full hearing. The defendant does not receive notice and is not present when the judge issues the order. Known as "ex parte" orders, these are granted when there is a present danger of abuse and an order is necessary prior to the hearing. The order remains in place only until the hearing can be held.

(Iowa Code §§ 236.4, 236.6.)

Punishment and Treatment of Domestic Violence

Any assault that qualifies as domestic violence is subject to enhanced penalties in Iowa.

First offense

If no other law applies, domestic abuse assault is treated as a simple misdemeanor, punishable by to 30 days in jail and fine of $65 to $625.

If the victim suffers bodily injury or mental illness, the assault is considered a serious misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $315 to $1,875.

If the assault is committed with the intent to inflict serious injury or if the defendant was armed with a dangerous weapon, the first offense becomes an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine of $625 to $6,250.

Second offense

If the first conviction for domestic abuse was a simple misdemeanor, and the second offense would otherwise be a simple misdemeanor, the second offense is a serious misdemeanor.

If either the first or second offense is classified as a serious or aggravated misdemeanor, then the second offense is an aggravated misdemeanor.

For first and second offenses, the court must impose at least two days in jail.

Third offense

Third and subsequent offenses are class D felonies, punishable by up to five years' imprisonment and a fine of $750 to $7,500. The defendant must serve at least one year in jail before becoming eligible for work release or parole. Iowa also imposes a minimum sentence of five years for any forcible felony committed with a dangerous weapon.


In most cases, the court must order a defendant convicted of domestic abuse assault to participate in a batterer's treatment program. If the victim and the defendant have only dated (are not married, separated, or divorced, living together, recently living together, or the parents of children together), then the court can decide whether to order treatment. Usually, the defendant must pay for treatment.

(Iowa Code § § 236.2, § 702.7, 708.2A, 708.2B, 902.9, 903.1.)

Consequences for Violating an Iowa Protective Order

If an officer has probable cause to believe a protective order has been violated, the officer must arrest the defendant. However, if more than 24 hours have passed since the alleged violation, the officer must first obtain an arrest warrant.

A violation of a domestic abuse protective order is a simple misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $65 to $625. It is also viewed as contempt of court (violating a court's order), which is punishable by jail or a fine. There is a minimum jail sentence of seven days. Defendants who possess guns in violation of the order could also face separate felony charges for violating the prohibition on firearms possession.

(Iowa Code §§ 236.11, 664A.7, 724.26, 903.1.)

Getting Legal Advice and Representation

If you are served with an application for a protective order or charged with a crime that involves domestic violence, you should contact an Iowa criminal defense attorney immediately. A domestic abuse conviction or protective order can have serious consequences. An attorney will be able to tell you how your case is likely to fare in court and help you understand the criminal justice system and achieve the best possible outcome in your case.

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