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.