Arkansas DWI / DUI Laws: What Is a DWI and What Should You Do If Arrested for Drunk Driving?

According to Arkansas law, if you are driving while drunk or impaired by alcohol, drugs, or other substances, you can be arrested for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI).

But, what is the legal definition of “drunk,” and when can you be arrested for a DWI?

In Arkansas, the legal blood-alcohol content (BAC) limit for drivers over 21 is 0.08 percent. For drivers under 21, that limit drops down to .02 percent. However, it’s important to note that, if a police officer suspects that you are driving while intoxicated, you can be arrested even without a blood-alcohol content test.

So, saying that a person is arrested for “drunk driving” may not be completely accurate in many cases. And, you can face serious penalties even if you don’t feel you are drunk at all.

DWIs are considered a serious offense in Arkansas, and for good reason. Alcohol, drugs, and other intoxicants can:

  • Slow reaction times
  • Reduce good judgment
  • Cause blurred or otherwise impaired vision
  • Cause drowsiness, increasing the risk of falling asleep at the wheel
  • Make otherwise skilled drivers a danger on the road

According to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), “in Arkansas as in the rest of the US, drunk driving is the single largest cause of motor vehicle related fatalities and accounts for an alarmingly high 40 percent to 50 percent of the total number of motor vehicle related deaths every year.”

Statistics like this are one of the primary reasons that DUI and DWI laws—and penalties—have become stricter across the country over the last few decades.

This guide offers an overview of national DUI/DWI laws, Arkansas DWI laws, and what you can expect if you’ve been arrested or convicted.

However, this overview is not legal advice. If you are seeking legal advice, it is recommended that you speak with an experienced DUI/DWI attorney.

What Is DWI in Arkansas?

In the U.S., Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or Driving While Impaired (DWI) on a public road is a crime in all 50 states. However, specific laws, regulations, and penalties can vary from state to state. This does not mean a DUI/DWI is less serious in one state than another.

Driving while intoxicated always presents a danger to yourself and others. If you injure or kill someone while driving drunk or under the influence, you could be convicted of a felony. And, regardless of the details of the laws in a particular state, according to the DMV, “the fourth offense is treated as a Felony and may result in imprisonment for one to six years and/or $900- $5000 fine.”

In Arkansas, a DWI definition refers to driving a vehicle while impaired by any intoxicant. According to Arkansas state law:

“(a) It is unlawful for any person who is intoxicated to operate or be in actual physical control of a motor vehicle; and

(b) It is also unlawful for any person to operate or be in actual physical control of a motor vehicle if at that time the alcohol concentration in the person’s breath or blood is 0.08 percent or more as measured by a breath, blood, and urine test.”

What constitutes impairment is generally up to the discretion of the law enforcement officer, as “the Arkansas government believes that variable amounts of various substances can impair people differently.”

In the language of official state law:

“The term ‘intoxicated’ means influenced or affected by the ingestion or consumption of alcohol, a controlled substance, any intoxicant, or any combination of alcohol, a controlled substance, or an intoxicant, to such a degree that the driver’s reactions, motor skills, and judgment are substantially altered.”

This means, if it can be proven that you were in control of a motor vehicle and impaired by an intoxicant, you can be arrested and convicted, regardless of whether or not your BAC is over 0.08 percent. So, even if you have not had much to drink, or if you have simply taken some cold medicine that causes drowsiness or erratic driving, it is wisest to stay off the road.

Arkansas driving laws apply to you whether you’re licensed in the state or simply driving through. Here are some specific Arkansas alcohol and DUI/DWI laws that you should be aware of:

  • It is legal to drive with an open container. However, neither you nor your passenger(s) is permitted to drink in the car.
  • Arkansas has an out-of-state Driver’s License Compact Agreement. This means, if you are convicted of a DUI/DWI here, it will be reported to your home state.
  • The “implied consent” law means you automatically consent to testing if pulled over by a law enforcement officer who suspects you of driving while intoxicated. If you refuse a test, you will lose your license. More on this below.

Before we get into detailed information about the Arkansas DWI process and penalties, it’s important to understand the meaning of different convictions and how they might vary from state to state.

Arkansas DUI, DWI, OUI, OWI

What Is the Difference Between DWI, DUI, OWI, and OUI?


The potential legal impact and definitions of DWI and DUI vary from state to state. Some states use Driving Under the Influence, or “DUI,” to refer to drunk driving. Others use it to refer to driving under the influence of drugs and use Driving While Intoxicated or “DWI” to refer to drunk driving. Others do not use the “DUI” designation at all, and simply use DWI to cover all charges.

In many states that use both DUI and DWI, DUI is considered a lesser charge, with less severe legal consequences. In such states, a driver whose BAC test reveals a lesser degree of impairment may receive a DUI. And, if it is a driver’s first offense, he or she may be able to reduce a DWI charge to a DUI charge.

In Arkansas, drivers 21 years of age or older who drive intoxicated can be arrested for and convicted of a DWI, but not a DUI. According to the Arkansas DWI guide, “there is a separate DUI offense in Arkansas that applies only to drivers under 21 years of age and is typically seen when the young driver has a BAC of 0.02 to 0.07 percent.”

So, most Arkansas drivers can be convicted of a DWI, which carries harsher penalties.


OUI and OWI are acronyms for “Operating Under the Influence” and “Operating While Impaired,” respectively.

In states that use the “operating” designation, you don’t have to be actively driving your vehicle while intoxicated to be arrested. You could be relaxing in your car listening to the radio, sleeping parked in a parking lot, or simply sitting in your car without the engine running, and still face an OUI or OWI charge if an officer thinks that you are unable to safely drive.

Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island are the only states that currently use the OUI designation.

Indiana and Iowa use OWI.

Important note: Despite their different names, all of these charges (DUI, DWI, OUI, OWI) mean that you were driving or operating a vehicle after drinking or imbibing enough to disrupt your ability to safely control the vehicle.

DUIs, DWIs, OUIs, and OWIs are all very serious and can have a long-lasting impact on your legal and driving record. There is no “light” drunk or impaired driving conviction, especially when it comes to repeat offenses.

States With Zero-Tolerance Laws

Zero-tolerance laws are intended to address underage drivers who drive while impaired. It is already illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase and/or consume alcohol, and in states with zero-tolerance laws, underage drivers can be arrested for and convicted of a criminal DWI or DUI offense even with very little alcohol present in their system. Of course, no one of any age is allowed to drive under the influence of illegal drugs.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Nearly one-third of all deaths of 15- to 20-year-olds are the result of a motor vehicle crash and about 35 percent of those fatalities are alcohol-related.” Furthermore, “the alcohol involvement rate for young drivers is roughly twice that of over-21 drivers, while underage drinking at even low levels presents a greater risk of fatal crashes.”

With stakes this high for young drivers, it’s no wonder many states, including Arkansas, have strict penalties for underage drivers under the influence. While some states, such as Illinois and North Carolina, have set the BAC limit for young drivers to 0.00 percent, in Arkansas, young drivers can face legal penalties at a BAC of 0.02 percent.

This does not mean it’s more okay for young drivers to drink in Arkansas. Even one drink with family, in a private home, can raise a minor’s BAC to dangerous levels (and past the legal limit).

On a positive note, “an NHTSA study comparing the first 12 states to implement zero tolerance laws with 12 other states found that those with the law had a 20 percent decline in fatal single-car nighttime crashes with drivers under 21. These are generally the most likely to involve alcohol.” Even if zero-tolerance laws seem strict, they’ve been proven to save lives and preserve young people’s futures.

You can find more on penalties for under-21 drivers below.

How Do DWI/DUI Laws Work?

How DWI/DUI Laws Work

How Does an Officer Determine DWI?

A state law enforcement officer can pull you over and/or ask to test you for a suspected DWI if you are:

  • Driving too fast
  • Driving too slow
  • Swerving outside of your lane
  • Driving while actively drinking alcohol/smoking marijuana/otherwise imbibing substances
  • Otherwise driving erratically
  • In a collision with another car, an object (e.g., curb, street sign, tree), or a person

A law enforcement officer can determine whether or not you are driving while intoxicated by:

  • Observing the driving behaviors listed above
  • Observing your physical appearance and behaviors
  • Administering a field sobriety test
  • Administering a chemical test, such as a breathalyzer, blood, or urine test, to see if your BAC measures above the legal limit:
    • .08 percent for those over 21
    • .02 percent for those under 21
    • .04 percent for those driving a commercial vehicle

If an officer determines that you are intoxicated, he or she can arrest you immediately. If your BAC exceeds the legal limit, you can be convicted of a DWI and “may be subjected to criminal actions in addition to administrative actions.”

If your BAC is “0.18 percent or more over the maximum legal BAC limit of .08 percent,” you may experience stronger penalties.

Again, even without a BAC test or proof that your BAC exceeds the legal limit, if the officer can show that you were impaired while driving, he or she can arrest you, and you can be convicted.

Drugs and DWI

Per Arkansas law, you can be arrested for a DWI even if you have drugs but no alcohol in your system. An officer can ask you to take a blood or urine test to determine the level of drugs or other intoxicants in your system.

Even legal or prescription drugs can slow your response time, lead to drowsiness or aggression, and otherwise impair your driving. You can be charged with a DWI even if you are taking prescription drugs in the appropriate dosages. If your medication affects your ability to operate a motor vehicle, it is always best to stay safely off the road.

People under the age of 21 may not drive with any amount of illegal drugs in their system. Even trace amounts can lead to arrest and conviction.

“What If I’m Not Intoxicated?”

Many people feel sober and believe that they are safe and capable drivers even when their BAC exceeds the legal limit (or when they have taken other drugs). While it may be the case that some people can appear sober even at 0.08 percent BAC, a law enforcement officer can still arrest you if you fail a BAC test.

It is not up to you to determine whether or not you can safely navigate the road. It’s up to the officer.

Minors especially may feel sober at or above the 0.02 percent BAC limit. But, according to Arkansas’s zero-policy law, these minors can certainly still be arrested.

If you feel you aren’t intoxicated but suspect that your BAC may exceed the legal limit, you might choose to refuse a breathalyzer, blood, or urine test. According to Arkansas’s Implied Consent Law, such a refusal would still result in your arrest.

While you can appeal charges after your arrest, if you are driving after drinking or taking a controlled substance, there is little to nothing you can do to avoid the arrest itself. The best way to avoid a DUI arrest is to avoid driving under the influence.

“What Is Implied Consent?”

According to the DMV, “having an Arkansas license automatically provides your consent to be tested if stopped by a law enforcement officer while driving. This is the law of ‘implied consent’ and can be used by the officer to test you if you are stopped on the suspicion of drunk driving, either through a breathalyzer test or by an actual blood test to check the BAC. Refusing to take the chemical test will result in losing your license.”

In other words, as a licensed Arkansas driver, you have already agreed to chemical testing. If you are pulled over and refuse to take such a test, you are violating the implied consent law. This means:

You cannot avoid arrest or other administrative and legal consequences by refusing an officer’s testing request.

“What Should I Do Immediately After an Arrest?”

Once you are arrested for drunk driving or a suspected DWI/DUI:

Immediately after your arrest, you should:

  • Listen carefully, stay calm, and keep track of all paperwork
  • Contact a lawyer who specializes in DWI/DUI law
  • Agree to appropriate testing, following the implied consent law. If you uphold your right to refuse testing, stay aware that this may imply guilt later in court

For more details about what you should do in the days, weeks, and months following your arrest, read on.

“What If I’m a Commercial Driver?”

If you are a commercial driver—a designation that includes school bus drivers—your legal BAC limit is 0.04 percent—half the limit for non-commercial drivers.

According to the Arkansas DMV, “the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) can disqualify your commercial driver’s license (CDL) if you commit certain violations in either a commercial or non-commercial vehicle.

Violations include:

  • Driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol/drugs.
  • Refusing to submit to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test.
  • Speeding and reckless driving.
  • Violating out-of-service orders.
  • Following too closely.
  • Making erratic lane changes.
  • Using your vehicle to commit a felony.
  • Driving without the proper CDL endorsements.”

If a CDL holder commits a second DWI offense, that person will lose his or her commercial driver’s license for life.

Even if your BAC is less than 0.04 percent, your arresting officer can issue a 24-hour “out-of-service” order, which suspends your right to drive for the next 24 hours.

The Arkansas DWI laws are stricter for commercial drivers because the risks of driving while intoxicated are higher. If driving is your livelihood, it’s vital to adhere to alcohol and driving regulations.

“What If I’m a Pilot?”

According to the Federal Airmen Association (FAA), “pilots must report alcohol and/or drug related administrative actions, whether a conviction took place or not.”

This means, even if you are arrested but not convicted of a DWI, you still must report the arrest to the FAA’s Security and Investigations Division within 60 days, using an official notification letter.

You must also send a separate notification letter for each alcohol and/or drug related motor vehicle action. For example, you must send one letter if your license is suspended, and another if you are convicted of a DWI. The FAA will still understand the arrest, conviction, etc., as one event.

Learn more about FAA reporting requirements and download an official notification letter on the FAA website.

“What if There Was an Accident?”

DWI or not, if you are in an accident that results in damage to a vehicle/property that exceeds $1,000 in value or that results in injury or death, Arkansas law states you have 30 days to file an Arkansas Motor Vehicle Accident Report (SR-1).
DUI/DWI accident


And, if someone is killed or injured as the result of driving while under the influence, you could be found guilty of a felony and could go to state prison for years—even if it is the first offense. If you have a record of alcohol-related offenses, your sentence could be more severe.

In cases involving an accident, it is very important to consult an attorney.

“What if I’m Under 21?”

If you are under 21, you will likely be held to Arkansas DUI laws and may face all of the same penalties as someone over 21 (detailed below). In addition:

And, as already noted, you could be prosecuted under laws that apply to drivers 21 and over.

“What if There Were Kids in the Car?”

If you were driving while intoxicated with passengers under 16 in the car, you can face jail time, as follows:

  • First offense: 7 days to one year
  • Second offense: 30 days to one year
  • Third offense: 120 days to one year
  • Fourth offense: two to six years

What to Do After Being Arrested for DWI/DUI

According to Arkansas law, when you are arrested for drunk driving, you must go through two different case proceedings.

The Arkansas Implied Consent (Administrative License Suspension) Proceeding

After failing or refusing a chemical test, your license was likely suspended. You should:

  • Decide if you will represent yourself or hire a lawyer (the latter is advised)
  • Carefully read your Notice of Suspension to determine how long you have to appeal the suspension of your license (typically, seven days)
  • Challenge your suspension by the appropriate deadline
  • Attend the hearing (generally within 20 days of arrest)

If you do not request a hearing, “then the suspension/revocation begins on the 15th day after the arrest, and is final.”

The Arkansas DWI Criminal Case

This addresses the actual DWI criminal charge. According to the DMV, “If you are over 21 years old, and are caught with BAC higher than the set limit of 0.08 percent you may be subjected to criminal actions in addition to administrative actions.”

Court dates will be automatically scheduled. You must attend all assigned court dates, during which the court will assess whether or not you should be convicted of a DWI. The court will also assign all appropriate penalties, including a potential license suspension that is distinct from the suspension described above.

Again, this procedure is separate from the Arkansas Implied Consent Proceeding. It is highly recommended that you work with a lawyer who can help you navigate the complexities of Arkansas DUI/DWI law, as well as keep all important dates and documents in order.

“What if I Miss a Court Date?”

You do not want to miss your court dates.

If you do not schedule a hearing to challenge your license suspension within seven days, you can waive your right to that hearing.

If you miss a scheduled criminal court date, the Arkansas court will likely issue a warrant for your arrest, and your license will be automatically suspended.

After missing a court date, you only option may be to turn yourself in on the outstanding window “often, your only option is to turn yourself in on the outstanding warrant.” However, you should consult with a lawyer first. Once you turn yourself in or are arrested, a new court date will be scheduled.
AR DUI/DWI Penalties

Penalties for DWI/DUI

“Is DWI a Misdemeanor or Felony?”

Generally, an Arkansas DWI is a misdemeanor. That said, if you are convicted of four or more DWIs within five years, you will face felony charges and—in some cases—you might have your license revoked for life.

Administrative Penalties

In addition to criminal penalties, any driver convicted of a DWI in Arkansas will also face separate administrative penalties.

You may be able to challenge a license suspension at a court hearing, as long as you schedule that hearing within seven days of arrest (generally).

If you do not schedule a hearing, the suspension will begin 15 days after your arrest.

If you schedule a hearing but do not successfully challenge your suspension, the suspension will begin 15 days after the hearing officer mails the final order of the hearing from the Department of Finance and Administration. Following your arrest, you may receive a temporary permit that allows you to drive for 30 days.

The administrative penalties grow more severe for each subsequent alcohol-related suspension or conviction in a five-year period.

1st offense

  • If your BAC was over 0.08 percent but under 0.15 percent, you will have your driver’s license suspended for 120 days.
  • If your BAC was over 0.15 percent, your license could be suspended for 180 days.
  • You may be permitted to drive on a restricted permit, using an ignition interlock device (IID).
  • If you are permitted an IID, you may be required to continue using it for one year after your license suspension has been lifted.
  • Under 21: Your license could be suspended for 90 days.

2nd offense

  • If your BAC was over 0.08 percent, your driver’s license could be suspended for two years.
  • Even if you are permitted to drive on a restricted permit, using an IID, your license will be suspended for at least one year.
  • If you are permitted an IID, you may be required to continue using it for one year after your license suspension has been lifted.
  • Under 21: Your license could be suspended for one year.

3rd offense

  • If your BAC was over 0.08 percent, your driver’s license could be suspended for 30 months.
  • Even if you are permitted to drive on a restricted permit, using an IID, your license will be suspended for at least one year.
  • If you are permitted an IID, you may be required to continue using it for one year after your license suspension has been lifted.
  • Under 21: Your license could be revoked for three years or until your 21st birthday, depending on which period is longer.

4th offense

  • Your driving privileges will be revoked for four years.
  • If you refused a chemical test, your license will be revoked for life.
  • Under 21: Your license could be revoked for three years or until your 21st birthday, depending on which period is longer.

5th offense

  • Your driving privileges will be revoked for four years.
  • If you refused a chemical test, your license will be revoked for life.
  • Under 21: Your license could be revoked for three years or until your 21st birthday, depending on which period is longer.

Ignition Interlock Device (IID)

You may be allowed to drive using a restricted ignition interlock device permit if the court determines that you rely on your car for transportation to work, school, mandated drug and alcohol treatment, and other necessary destinations.

An ignition interlock device is designed to prevent you from driving if your BAC is above the pre-programmed permitted levels (usually, 0.02 percent). It will be attached somewhere in your car (typically, the dashboard). And, much like a breathalyzer, it will require you to breathe into the mouthpiece and check your BAC before driving.

Important information about IIDs:

  • Your car will not start if the IID determines that your BAC exceeds the permitted level.
  • The IID records all events and keeps track of every time you pass and fail the BAC test.
  • Occasionally, you will be required to complete a “rolling retest.” In other words, you will blow into the IID while driving.
    • In this case, for safety reasons, your car will not stop if you fail. However, the IID will record the failure.
  • You must pay for the IID yourself, which can cost up to $100 for installation and nearly as much per month for the lease.
  • If you attempt to “trick” the IID, you can face severe penalties, as well as put yourself and others in danger.
  • You may not be eligible for a restricted IID driving permit if you refused a chemical test at the time of your arrest.

Criminal Penalties

Criminal penalties occur separately from/in addition to any administrative penalties you face for a DWI conviction.

The criminal penalties grow more severe for each subsequent alcohol-related suspension or conviction in a five-year period. This is true even if prior convictions occurred in another state.

It is highly recommended that you consult with a qualified attorney so you can understand exactly how you are being penalized and how to protect yourself.

1st offense

  • You could be imprisoned a minimum of one day and a maximum of one year.
  • OR you may be ordered to complete at least seven days of community service.
  • You could owe a fine of $150-$1000.
  • You could owe up to $300 in court costs.
  • You will have 14 points added to your driving record.
  • You must attend an Alcohol Education Program/drug and alcohol counseling.
  • If you were driving with a passenger under the age of 16, you can be imprisoned for a minimum of seven days and a maximum of one year.
  • Under 21: You may owe a larger fine, up to $2000.

2nd offense:

  • You could be imprisoned a minimum of seven days and a maximum of one year.
  • OR you may be ordered to complete at least 30 days of community service.
  • You could owe a fine of $400-$3000.
  • You could owe up to $300 in court costs.
  • You will have 14 points added to your driving record.
  • You must attend an Alcohol Education Program/drug and alcohol counseling.
  • If you were driving with a passenger under the age of 16, you can be imprisoned for a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of one year.

3rd offense:

  • You could be imprisoned a minimum of 90 days, or one to six years.
  • OR you may be ordered to complete at least 90 days of community service.
  • You could owe a fine of $900-$5000.
  • You could owe up to $300 in court costs.
  • You will have 14 points added to your driving record.
  • You could be denied a driver’s license for 10 years.
  • You must attend an Alcohol Education Program/drug and alcohol counseling.
  • If you were driving with a passenger under the age of 16, you can be imprisoned for a minimum of 120 days and a maximum of one year.

4th offense:

  • The 4th offense is a felony.
  • You could be imprisoned a minimum of one year and a maximum of six years.
  • OR you may be ordered to complete at least one year of community service.
  • You could owe a fine of $900-$5000 (in addition to court costs).
  • You will have 14 points added to your driving record.
  • You could be denied a driver’s license for 10 years.
  • You must attend an Alcohol Education Program/drug and alcohol counseling.
  • If you were driving with a passenger under the age of 16, you can be imprisoned for a minimum of two years and a maximum of six years.

5th offense (and beyond):

  • The 5th offense is a felony.
  • You could be imprisoned a minimum of one year and a maximum of six years.
  • OR you may be ordered to complete at least two years of community service.
  • You could owe a fine of $900-$5000 (in addition to court costs).
  • You will have 14 points added to your driving record.
  • You must attend an Alcohol Education Program/drug and alcohol counseling.
  • If you were driving with a passenger under the age of 16, you can be imprisoned for a minimum of three years to a maximum of 10 years.

Can You or Your Attorney Negotiate Down a DWI Charge?

This is unlikely, but possible. According to Arkansas law, there is no alcohol-related charge lower than a DWI. You cannot have your charge negotiated down to a lesser DUI charge or for a “wet reckless,” as that does not exist in the state.

However, you or your attorney can challenge a driving suspension and argue for a restricted driving permit. Depending on your driving record, whether or not you were in a collision, your BAC at the time of arrest, and other factors, you may be able to argue for the lowest possible penalties.

DUI/DWI charges in Arkansas


“How long will this be on my record?”

Any DWI/DUI conviction will stay on your record for 5 years, even in another state.

In Arkansas, it is possible—if difficult—to have the DWI conviction expunged (or removed from your record), whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony. To do so, you must:

  • Wait five years before petitioning the court
  • Hire an attorney
  • Fill out all the proper paperwork
  • Submit a chemical dependency evaluation
  • Collect letters from family members and employers detailing your good behavior and describing your character and value to society

“Can I drive in another state?”

The state of Arkansas can only suspend or revoke your right to drive in the state itself. However, in adherence to the Driver License Compact, the state will report a DWI conviction (not charge) to your home state.

No matter what state you are in, it is always illegal to drive without a license or permit.

“How can I get my license reinstated?”

To have your license reinstated, you must:

“How will a DWI/DUI affect my insurance?”

Most likely, you will be required to report a DWI conviction to your insurance provider. Once you do that, or once your insurance finds out about the conviction in another way, your rates may go up or your insurance cancelled. It may also be difficult and expensive to sign up for other insurance.

“Can stores be held accountable for selling alcohol to someone arrested for DWI?”

Possibly. An alcohol retailer may be subject to a civil liability if:

  • The retailer knowingly sold to a minor and the sale caused injury to that minor or another person.
  • The retailer sold to someone who was clearly intoxicated and the sale caused injury to a person.

It is also a crime to knowingly sell alcohol to a minor.

“Can I represent myself in court?”

Yes, you have the right to represent yourself in court.

However, keep in mind that DWI/DUI charges and convictions are very serious, and the law and court process can be complex.

Consulting an Attorney

Particulars aside, in Arkansas, a DUI/DWI is always a serious offense. Choosing to drive while impaired is not taken lightly by law enforcement officers or the court of law.

Even if you feel sober, you can face high fines, jail time, and long-term license suspension if you are convicted of a DWI. You can even lose your driving privileges altogether. And, remember, the court does not have to prove your BAC exceeded the legal limit to convict you of a DUI/DWI. If you presented a danger to yourself and others while driving, and if it can be proven that you were intoxicated by drugs or alcohol, you can be found guilty.

But, a DWI/DUI does not have to ruin your future.

No matter your age or the circumstances of your arrest, if you are being charged with DWI/DUI, it is always valuable to seek the counsel of a qualified attorney who can help you navigate the charges and proceedings.

Understanding Divorce in Arkansas: Lawyers, Logistics, and Legalese

Are You Considering Divorce in Arkansas?

Perhaps you and your spouse have been in conflict for a long time, and you no longer see how your relationship can work. It may be that financial pressure, the increased stress of raising a family and pursuing a career, or an unexpected tragedy has driven you apart. Maybe one or both of you has betrayed the other’s trust, making reconciliation seem impossible. Or, perhaps time has simply revealed irreconcilable differences, such as disagreements about having children, and you know you will not be happy or fulfilled together.

If you feel as though you no longer truly know or connect with your partner, it makes sense that you are contemplating divorce. As you plan and move forward with the divorce process, it is vital to be informed about your legal rights and requirements, as well as steps you can take to make the end of your marriage as smooth as possible. The more amicable the divorce, the better the long-term results for you, your ex-spouse, and any involved family members, including your children.

Read on for actionable steps you can take and important information you should know about Arkansas divorce laws, proceedings, and how a divorce attorney can help.

Included in this article:

Has Your Spouse Begun Divorce Proceedings?

If your spouse has just served you divorce papers, you may feel blind-sided, confused, and even betrayed. Even if you suspected that this was coming, you likely still feel underprepared and unsure what you can do to protect yourself now that divorce is a reality.

Before you sign divorce papers, it is essential to contact an attorney who understands divorce and family law. Regardless of the circumstances of your divorce, there are ways for you to advocate for yourself, ensure a fair division of assets, and negotiate custody. Gaining a thorough understanding of divorce laws in Arkansas is the first step toward claiming control over your future.

divorce in Arkansas

Definitions and Things to Know Before Beginning the Process of Divorce

There are a few key legal definitions and terms you should familiarize yourself with so you can know what to expect when getting divorced.

Covenant Marriage vs. Non-Covenant Marriage

As you begin the divorce process, it’s important to understand what kind of marriage you are ending. Most marriages are regular or non-covenant marriages. But, if you and your spouse (a man and a woman) pledged that your marriage would be a lifelong commitment, took part in authorized marriage counseling, and declared your intent to contract a covenant marriage on your marriage license application, then, according to Arkansas law, you are in a covenant marriage. If you don’t know whether or not you are in a covenant marriage, you are probably not.

Being in a covenant marriage means you can only legally end your marriage “when there has been a complete and total breach of the marital covenant commitment.” Read on to learn some of the differing requirements you may encounter during divorce depending on if you are in a covenant or non-covenant marriage.

Residency Requirements

Non-Covenant Marriage: First make sure you familiarize yourself with marital law and residency requirements in your county. In general, to seek a divorce in Arkansas, one spouse must be a resident for at least 60 days. If you do not live in Arkansas, but are filing to divorce a spouse who does, you should file in his or her county of residence.

Covenant Marriage: To file for the dissolution of a covenant marriage, you and/or your spouse must both be domiciled in the state. In addition, the event that serves as grounds for your divorce must have occurred within the state, or while your marital home was in the state. Otherwise, the spouse seeking divorce must have been domiciled in Arkansas before the ground occurred, and be again domiciled in Arkansas while filing for divorce.

Grounds for Divorce

Grounds for divorce are the “reasons” for the divorce. To legally end a marriage, you must prove appropriate grounds have occurred within the last five years. In Arkansas, grounds for divorce are either “fault” or “no-fault.”

Fault: Just like it sounds, this means one party is “responsible” or “at fault” for the circumstances leading to divorce. Fault grounds include cruelty (e.g., physical abuse or emotional abuse), impotency (not disclosed before marriage), adultery, imprisonment or conviction of a felony, substance abuse, and abandonment. If you are filing for divorce on at-fault grounds, you must be able to prove that at least one of these things has occurred.

In addition, if one spouse has been declared insane by a medical professional and has lived in an in-patient residency for three years, the sane spouse may petition for an absolute divorce.

No-Fault: If you and your ex have mutually agreed to divorce and have lived separately for at least 18 months, without any cohabitation or marital relationships during this separation, either of you can file for divorce. In this case, neither party is “at fault.” The consent of the other spouse is not required to obtain a divorce.

Covenant Marriage: To end a covenant marriage, you must seek authorized counseling. Then, if you still seek a divorce, you must prove that either 1) your spouse has physically or sexually abused you or your child, committed a felony, or committed adultery, or 2) that you and your spouse have been living apart for two years.

Uncontested Divorce vs. Contested Divorce

Uncontested Divorce: If you and your spouse agree to divorce, and agree to the terms of the divorce, this is an “uncontested divorce.” Uncontested divorces are often finalized more quickly and easily than contested divorces. However, that does not mean a court will automatically grant you a divorce. To get an uncontested divorce in Arkansas, you must prove that you have been separated from your partner for 18 months and offer an affidavit from a third-party witness. You must also prove fault or no-fault grounds, as explained above.

Contested Divorce: If you and your spouse do not agree to divorce, or do not agree about the terms of divorce, this is a “contested divorce.” For example, you might not agree about child custody, alimony, division of assets, or who is responsible for the end of the relationship. A contested divorce can be long, difficult process, and you and your ex must resolve disagreements in court. A divorce attorney can guide you through the process of resolving differences while protecting your interests.

If my spouse filed, but I don’t want to end the marriage, can I stop this divorce?

If you and your ex have been separated for 18 months, he or she can get a divorce without your consent.

If your ex is arguing that the divorce is your fault, you can attempt to stop the divorce by proving that you are not responsible. In your defense, you can argue that your spouse condoned, connived, or tricked you into behavior he or she is now claiming as wrongdoing. However, these defenses rarely work on their own. If you are determined to prevent divorce, you must collect reliable evidence and—ideally—consult with a divorce attorney about your options.

Filing and Serving Divorce Forms

An Arkansas divorce attorney can help you identify, obtain, and complete all of the paperwork necessary for a divorce, as well as familiarize yourself with any particular regulations in your county.

The spouse filing for divorce is the plaintiff. The spouse who is served with divorce papers is the defendant. Even if you are seeking an uncontested divorce, you must fill one role while your ex fills the other.

Divorce forms will be filed in your county’s Chancery Court, or, if one spouse lives out-of-state, in the county of the spouse who lives in Arkansas.

First, you will file a Complaint for Divorce. The court will open a case for you, and you and your spouse will go to court. In an uncontested divorce, the judge will simply make sure that you and your ex are in agreement and enter a Decree of Divorce with a signed property settlement, ending your marriage. Depending on your particular needs and situation, you may have to file a variety of other forms. An attorney can help you get your paperwork in order.

If you are the plaintiff, you must tell your spouse you are filing for divorce. You can serve divorce papers through certified mail, or through an appointed process server. Your spouse will, in general, have 30 days to respond. If he or she cannot be found, the court can issue a warning order in a county newspaper or similar publication. If he or she does not respond, you may be granted a divorce alone.

If your spouse’s response indicates a contested divorce, you will need to resolve disagreements in a court of law.

In Arkansas, there is a 30-day waiting period before a divorce can be finalized.

arkansas divorce

There Are Steps You Can Take to Ease the Stress of Divorce

Divorce is rarely easy, especially when you and your spouse disagree on key points, or when emotions run high. But, there are things you can do to prepare. Let’s look at the “Big 4”.

1)    Dividing Assets and Property

When filing for divorce in Arkansas, you may have to disclose your finances. Therefore, it is important to take stock of your assets and collect your financial information, including tax returns and credit card statements.

According to Arkansas law, whether you are the defendant or plaintiff, you will be able to keep the property you own independently, unrelated to your marriage. You should identify and organize proof of ownership for anything you purchased or received before marriage, inherited during marriage, or officially designated as your own during marriage. This includes an increase in income related to this property, as well as money gained from a worker’s compensation claim, disability claim, or personal injury claim.

Arkansas law calls for the equitable division of marital property, or property that you and your spouse acquired together, while married. If the court finds that a 50/50 split is not actually fair to both the defendant and plaintiff, it can adjust the division of property. To make sure you receive enough of your shared assets to assure your future wellbeing, you should collect as much information as you can about your individual income, employable skills, health, and contributions to the household/partnership. You will also want documentation that proves the length of your marriage, which may alter the division of property.

You and your spouse can determine the value of particular pieces of property, or you can ask a court to do this for you. In fact, before you begin divorce proceedings, you may wish to arrange a professional assessment of your property value, including the value of your marital home. You should identify what you value most and what you are willing to part with. If one spouse receives property with greater value than that which the other spouse receives, the first spouse may pay the difference.

If you anticipate that you may need alimony payments, or you wish to protect yourself from paying unreasonably high alimony payment, it is even more important to organize your assets and gain a nuanced understanding of your finances. The more time you spend collecting proof of your current financial status and anticipated financial status, the more equipped you will be to ask the court for what you need.

An Arkansas divorce attorney can offer individualized guidance about what types of proof you should collect, as well as information about how divorce proceedings might impact your financial future.

2)   Child Custody and Child Support

Arkansas law states that the gender of a parent will not determine whether he or she receives more custody or is favored in custody decisions; instead, custody decisions will be made with solely the best interests of the child in mind.

The law also states a preference for joint custody. In other words, it is generally best for the child if both parents play a significant role in the child’s life. One parent will be appointed the primary caregiver, or residential custodian, while the other will receive visitation rights.

To prepare to determine child custody, you and your spouse (and your lawyers) should discuss which parent the child will live with, how you will divide the child’s expenses, whether or not your child can move out of state, where the child will go to school, and how you will divide you child’s time between families, including holidays.

You and your spouse may disagree, especially because figuring out custody can be emotionally fraught. If you wish to be your child’s residential custodian, you will need to collect proof that this will benefit your child’s overall wellbeing. For example, are you already the child’s primary caregiver at home? Do you already prepare your child’s meals and organize doctor’s appointments? Do you have a job that allows you to stay accessible to your child, or do you have other supportive family members in the area?

If you wish to seek sole custody of your child, you must prove that your ex is unavailable or an unsuitable parent. For example, you might collect legal records or documentation proving a history of violence or mental health issues. If your ex does not wish to be involved in your child’s life, a court will likely grant you sole custody.

While an Arkansas court may take your child’s preferences into account, it is unlikely to do so. Still, if your child is a bit older or has strong opinions, you can ask your child to prepare a written statement indicating his or her preferences.

To assure that you receive or pay a fair amount of child support, you should collect documentation of how much it generally costs to meet your child’s needs. For example, you should have proof of cost of tuition, clothing, food, medical and dental expenses, transportation expenses, insurance, shelter, childcare, and recreation. You should assess your child’s current standards of living and what it will cost to maintain it. You can also think ahead and consider whether or not it is appropriate to start a college fund or trust fund for your child.

In general, child support ends after the child’s 18th birthday. However, if your child has a disability that will require continuous care into adulthood, you should present appropriate documentation to the court so you can receive ongoing child support. You can also argue that your child should receive support until he or she graduates from high school, even if her or she turns 18 during the school year.

Overall, when preparing to negotiate child custody and support, you should collect as much information as possible about what it will take to sustain your child’s mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. For more information, consult the Arkansas Family Charts, which bases child support amounts on a parent’s net income.

Most importantly, contact an experienced divorce and child custody attorney who can give you expert advice that fits your particular case.

3)   Building a Support System

When it comes to life events as trying as getting divorced, technical knowledge is often not enough. It’s equally important to surround yourself with trusted people who can offer ongoing emotional support.

The encouragement, understanding, and empathy offered by friends and family members can help you get through the most stressful and painful parts of a divorce. Try to surround yourself with people who care about you and have your best interests in mind. Accept emotional support where it is offered (even though you may not want to accept legal advice from people who are not lawyers) and allow yourself to maintain and build a community that will be there for you when your marriage is over.

You might also wish to seek the help of a support group or mental health professional, especially if your family members and friends are also impacted by your divorce.

Although it may feel like you don’t have the time or energy to attend to your mental and emotional wellbeing, taking care of yourself can be key to staying focused and continuing to advocate for your needs. There is a strong correlation between divorce, mental health crises, and even suicide. Don’t underestimate emotional distress when it arises. You deserve to take care of yourself.

4)   Working With an Arkansas Divorce Attorney

One of the best things you can do to ease the stress of divorce is to work with a qualified attorney right away. There’s no need to balance all of the legal work on your own, especially if you think you will encounter complications. You don’t want to find yourself missing forms, filling them out incorrectly, or otherwise creating a situation in which the court can deny your divorce, settlement, or custody claim.

A divorce lawyer is a reliable third party who will not have any emotional ties to the divorce proceedings, and who will be on your team, making sure that you don’t agree to anything that could harm you in the long run. An attorney can also help you identify assets that you might not even know you are entitled to.

And, most importantly, a lawyer can help make sure your divorce actually follows Arkansas divorce laws and becomes final.

arkansas life after divorce

Life After Divorce

Child Custody and Child Support (Post-Divorce)

You will most likely continue to navigate child custody and child support until your child turns 18, which means you might have years of contact and renegotiation with your ex.

In some cases, the court might require you to attend parenting classes with your ex-spouse. Even if you are not required to take classes, because they can help you navigate the complications of co-parenting in separate households, they are highly recommended for both you and your child’s long-term wellbeing.

You might run up against problems receiving child support in a timely manner, in which case you might open a case with the Office of Child Support Enforcement.

Remarriage, a move, health complications, school changes, and other factors might also require that you and your ex reconsider the terms of your custody and support arrangements. A lawyer can help you bring change requests into court.

Navigating Contact with Your Ex

Even after your divorce is finalized, certain situations may require you to be in contact with your ex. If you are co-parents, you are most likely to be in occasional contact. However, you might also have to continue to negotiate alimony or manage shared property together. Or, you might simply find yourself in the same social circles. Seeking mental health counseling and continuing to rely on your emotional support systems can be very helpful in maintaining necessary communication with your ex.

If your spouse has been abusive toward you, or if he or she makes repeated, unwanted contact with you following the divorce, you may wish to file for an Order of Protection and/or a restraining order. Filing these can not only prevent your spouse from contacting you, but also stop him or her from selling marital property. And, with an Order of Protection, the police can arrest your ex if he or she continues to harass, threaten, or otherwise contact you. Of course, in many cases, such steps will not be necessary.

Obtain a Divorce in Arkansas with a Qualified Attorney

Working with a divorce attorney can help you and your spouse compromise and come to a more amicable end to your marriage. If you go through the process the right way, life after divorce can feel better than before.

Whether or not you choose to work with a divorce lawyer and which attorney you choose are entirely up to you. If you aren’t sure how to get started and you live in Northwest Arkansas, contact the Roberds Law Firm today at (479) 464-0904 to set up a free, confidential consultation to discuss your options and how you can proceed in your divorce.

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