Getting divorced in Arkansas is similar to getting divorced in other states. A divorce for any married couple will accomplish two things: (1) severing the marital relationship, and (2) dividing assets and debts. If they have been married for a significant length of time and one of them will be unable to be self-supporting after the divorce, the issue of alimony may arise. If there are minor children, they will also need to resolve issues of child custody, visitation, and support.
Residency. In order to file for divorce in Arkansas, either you or your spouse must be a resident of the state for at least 60 days before filing, and at least 3 months before a judgment is entered.
Separation Period. Before you can file for a no-fault divorce, you and your spouse must have been living separately for at least 18 months. Your separation must be “voluntary,” but this only means that it is voluntary for one of you. For example, if you moved to your own residence, it does not matter whether your spouse agrees with the separation. You and your spouse must not have cohabited at any time during the 18-month separation period. If you separate, then live together again (even for a day), and separate again, the 18-month period starts over.
Where to File. If you are an Arkansas resident, you will file your divorce in the Chancery Court of the county where you live. If your spouse is a resident of Arkansas but you are not, you will file in the county where your spouse lives.
You begin the procedure by filing a Complaint for Divorce. In the most simple situation, an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse will reach an agreement on property division, alimony (if it is to be paid), and child custody and support. In such a case, you, and possibly your spouse, will be required to attend a court hearing. The judge will ask some questions, to be sure you understand and agree to everything, and will enter a Decree of Divorce. If you get into a dispute, and have a contested divorce, the hearing is more complicated. In either case you will need to offer either an affidavit of a witness (in an uncontested case), or the testimony of a witness (in a contested case), who can verify that you and your spouse have lived apart for 18 months.
Grounds for Divorce
Grounds are legally recognized reasons to get a divorce, severing the marital relationship. Arkansas, like most states, has what are commonly called no-fault grounds for divorce, as well as more traditional fault-based grounds.
For a no-fault divorce in Arkansas you need to state in the Complaint that “the parties have been voluntarily living separate without cohabitation for 18 continuous months.” You will need to offer either an affidavit of a witness (in an uncontested case), or the testimony of a witness (in a contested case), who can verify that you and your spouse have lived apart for 18 months. If you don’t want to wait for 18 months of separation, you will need to use one of several fault-based grounds. However, you will then need to prove the grounds, which will make the process more complicated.
The fault-based grounds for divorce in Arkansas include conviction of a felony, alcoholism, “cruel and barbarous treatment” which endangers your life, “offering such indignities to the person of the other as shall render his or her condition intolerable” (which encompasses abuse), adultery, and desertion.
Covenant Marriage. Arkansas is one of a few states that have created a covenant marriage. You will know if you have a covenant marriage. To dissolve a covenant marriage you need to prove one of several designated fault-based grounds.
Property Division in Arkansas
Your property and debts will need to be divided. You and your spouse may agree on this. If the judge must decide the matter, Arkansas law allows each party to keep his or her non-marital property, which is:
- property acquired before your marriage,
- property acquired by gift or inheritance during your marriage,
- property acquired in exchange for non-marital property,
- property designated as nonmarital by a written agreement,
- any increase in value, or income from, nonmarital property; and claims for workers’ compensation, personal injuries, or Social Security disability.
Everything else, the marital property, is divided equally, unless the judge states the reasons for an unequal division, considering:
- length of marriage,
- age, health and station in life of the parties,
- amount and sources of income,
- vocational skills,
- each party’s estate, liabilities, and needs, and opportunity for further acquisition of capital assets and income,
- each party’s contribution to the acquisition, preservation, or appreciation of marital property,
- federal income tax consequences, and
- any marital misconduct
Alimony in Arkansas
Arkansas alimony law provides that alimony may be awarded as “reasonable from the circumstances of the parties and the nature of the case.” Fault may be considered. Alimony may be awarded for a limited or an indefinite period of time, and in a lump sum or in installments.
Child Custody in Arkansas
If you and your spouse have any minor children, there will have to be a custody determination. Traditionally, one parent was awarded custody, and the other was given visitation rights. The children lived most of the time with the custodial parent, who made the day-to-day decisions regarding the children. The non-custodial parent was allotted certain times to have visitation with the children. Both parents were involved in major decisions regarding the children, such as those regarding their medical care.
The modern trend is to try to keep both parents active in the lives of their children, which has led to the concept of joint custody. It all still comes down to figuring out how the children’s time will be divided between the parents, and how decisions will be made.
Arkansas custody law says that custody is to be determined in accordance with the welfare and best interest of the child, “without regard to the sex of a parent,” and that the judge “may consider the preferences of the child if the child is of a sufficient age and mental capacity to reason, regardless of chronological age.” Arkansas favors joint custody.
Child Support in Arkansas
A decision must also be made about how the children will be financially supported. This almost always comes down to one parent paying money to the other. Child support is determined by taking into account the needs of the child, and each parent’s relative ability to meet those needs. This is determined by reference to the Arkansas child support guidelines chart, which is available from the Chancery Court Clerk.
The wife’s name before the marriage may be restored on her request.
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