In 2022, Arkansas had the highest divorce rate in the country, recording an average of 10.7 per 1,000 people. The state also had the highest divorce rate among females, averaging 13.1 divorces for every 1,000 women. Combined with the fact that Arkansas saw a 7.5% decrease in marriage rates over the course of three decades, this means that divorces are more likely to happen than marriages in the state. Divorce can happen for various reasons, ranging from personal conflict between spouses to legal issues. No two divorces are the same, and the disputes involved can make the process legally and emotionally taxing.
This article provides information about divorce laws and guidelines for Arkansas residents thinking about ending their marriage. The sections explain the legal requirements and potential steps that divorcing couples may face, making it easier for them to navigate the process.
Divorce vs. Annulment vs. Legal Separation in Arkansas
Divorce, annulment, and legal separation may sound the same to those unfamiliar with such processes, but they all differ in terms of the circumstances involved and the desired results. In Arkansas, a divorce is the end of a marriage, which happens when a couple asks the court to cancel their marriage contract because of personal or legal problems.
On the other hand, an annulment not only involves the dissolution of a marriage, but it also results in the court removing it from all records, implying that no marriage ever existed in the first place. However, couples in Arkansas can only file for annulment if their marriage was prohibited or never valid in the first place. The grounds for annulment in the state include the following:
One or both parties in the marriage were underage.
One or both parties lacked the mental capacity to comprehend or consent to the marriage.
One or both parties were unable to consummate the marriage due to physical causes.
One or both parties were coerced to marry through force or fraud.
The marriage involved incest.
In addition, the parents or guardians of a married couple can have a marriage annulled if there was no consent provided or if the age of one or both parties was misrepresented. This is because, in Arkansas, marriages between people under the age of 17 are prohibited unless there is parental consent.
Lastly, legal separation is when a married couple agrees to live apart without necessarily dissolving their marriage. This is frequently chosen by those who do not want to divorce for social or religious reasons, as well as those who want to see if reconciliation is still possible. It may also apply to those who remain legally married for tax or health insurance reasons.
In Arkansas, a couple can enter into a separation agreement in which the court can enforce any spousal support and property division terms they present. However, legal separation does not always include the enforcement of child support and custody terms because the court will prioritize the best interests of the child or children in question over the requests of either party in these matters. Furthermore, even if they live apart, both parties in a separation agreement are still considered married, which means they cannot marry again until they are divorced.
Is Arkansas a No-Fault State When It Comes to Divorce?
Arkansas allows both "fault-based" and "no-fault" divorces, but couples can only file for a "no-fault" divorce if they have been living apart for more than 18 months without getting back together or having sexual relations. When filing for a no-fault divorce, a couple must show proof that they have been living apart for at least the minimum amount of time required by state law.
Meanwhile, fault-based divorces in Arkansas are allowed if any of the following factors are present:
Either party was or is impotent.
Either party has been convicted of a serious crime or felony.
Either party engaged in habitual drunkenness for at least one year.
Either party displayed cruel or barbarous treatment that endangered the life of their spouse.
Either party committed any indignities, demonstrating consistent hatred or contempt to the point of making their spouse’s life intolerable.
Either party committed adultery.
Like with no-fault divorces, a fault-based divorce in Arkansas requires one party to provide evidence that supports their grounds for dissolving the marriage. For example, if a spouse’s life was threatened due to physical abuse, they must show the medical records and police reports related to the incident of abuse, along with any photos or statements proving that they suffered physical harm.
In contrast, if a fault-based divorce is uncontested, the court will no longer require the petitioner to submit evidence regarding their grounds for the divorce. Alternatively, their spouse may sign a written waiver for the corroboration requirement even if the divorce is contested.
How to File for Divorce in Arkansas
When filing for divorce in Arkansas, a petitioner must first provide proof of residency; specifically, they or their spouse must be a resident of the state for at least 60 days before the divorce is filed and for a minimum of three months by the time the court issues a final declaration. As mentioned above, they must show proof of where they live and explain why they want to get a divorce.
Filing the Divorce Complaint
The first step in the divorce process is to file a Complaint for Divorce. The petitioner can obtain a copy of this form and other documents online through the websites of the Arkansas Judiciary or organizations like Legal Aid of Arkansas.
The Complaint for Divorce must be submitted to the clerk’s office at the Circuit Court in the county where the petitioner or their spouse lives. Other required forms include the Domestic Relations Cover Sheet, the Confidential Information Sheet, and the Child Support Worksheet. The latter two are required if the couple has minor children.
The person who files for divorce is considered the plaintiff in the resulting case, while their spouse is the defendant. However, unlike in other civil actions, these designations have no major bearing on the divorce process.
Serving the Divorce Papers
After filing the Complaint for Divorce and other required forms, the individual can serve the divorce paperwork to their spouse along with a summons issued by the Circuit Court clerk. Unless there is a valid reason for their delay, they must do so within 120 days of filing their divorce complaint or risk having their case dismissed. They can use any of the following methods to send the summons and forms to their spouse:
First-class mail through the U.S. Postal Service; the documents must include two copies of a Form for Notice and Acknowledgement of Service by Mail alongside a stamped envelope containing the petitioner’s return address.
Certified mail or commercial delivery service; for those who choose the latter, they must obtain the court’s approval and a signature upon the delivery of the paperwork. If the petitioner’s spouse refuses to accept the papers, the petitioner can send the documents again via regular mail. They may include a notice informing their spouse that the judge may issue a default divorce judgment if they refuse to participate.
If the spouse does not respond to the service of the summons and papers by mail within 20 days, the petitioner can hire a private company or the local sheriff’s office to serve the paperwork on their behalf. The spouse can be ordered to pay for any costs related to this option unless they have an acceptable justification for why they did not respond. The petitioner can also ask the court for permission to publish a notice in a local newspaper to send to their spouse.
Both parties must also submit an Affidavit of Financial Means, which details their overall assets, outstanding debts, and income sources. This is in preparation for disputes or demands related to spousal and child support. They must also back up these claims with proper financial records and documents. Anyone who fails to disclose the required information may face penalties and have their case dismissed.
Finalizing the Divorce
After the divorce papers have been served, the couple must wait up to 30 days from the date the divorce complaint was filed. A final hearing will be held, after which the judge will make a decision on the case based on the demands and requests of both parties. If the divorce is contested, a trial will be held, and the judge will hear both sides' testimony. As previously stated, a contested divorce will almost certainly result in multiple hearings where the judge will rule on any issues on which neither party can agree.
How Property Is Divided in an Arkansas Divorce
In Arkansas divorce cases, state courts adhere to the rule of equitable distribution, wherein a couple’s property will be divided fairly. In general, the court will consider a 50/50 split of the property as equitable, though it can change this decision if it finds that such a division is not fair. Equitable distribution takes the following factors into account:
The length of the couple’s marriage.
Either party’s employability and vocational skills.
Either party’s source of income.
Either party’s contribution in acquiring and preserving their property.
Both parties’ age, health, and station in life.
Federal income tax consequences that affect the division of the property.
When dividing property, Arkansas courts frequently divide only marital property, which refers to anything acquired by the couple during their marriage. Any property that does not fall into this category is considered separate property; in particular, these are assets acquired before the marriage or assets received during the marriage as gifts or as part of an inheritance. Separate property is only divided if the factors listed above make it necessary for a fair and equitable distribution.
Arkansas Divorce FAQs
While the divorce process in Arkansas is generally straightforward, it should be noted that each case is unique, resulting in different experiences and questions for those involved. The following are some of the most common questions an individual or a couple might have if they decide to divorce.
Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in Arkansas
Arkansas Bar Association
The Arkansas Bar Association is open to state residents involved in legal matters. Its website has a Find a Lawyer service that helps Arkansans look for an attorney for potential legal representation based on their location and concerns. It also has a selection of downloadable pamphlets that offer a basic understanding of different aspects of the law, including domestic violence and the negative impact of divorces on children. Lastly, the website can redirect users to other sites where they can file complaints against attorneys and judges for ethical misconduct.
Legal Aid of Arkansas
Legal Aid of Arkansas is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing legal aid to Arkansans in need. Any low-income state resident can visit the organization's website to apply for free legal services in civil matters, including family law issues such as divorce, child custody, and child support obligations. It can also direct people to Arkansas Law Help, which provides access to a wide range of self-help resources for divorce, annulment, legal separation, domestic violence, and other related issues.
Free Legal Answers - Arkansas
Free Legal Answers is a virtual legal advice clinic established by the American Bar Association to provide legal aid to the general public. Arkansans can register on its website to submit non-criminal questions, such as divorce and family law. Each question will be answered for free by a volunteer attorney. However, the clinic cannot connect people to lawyers for potential legal representation. Free Legal Answers can be reached via email if you have any further questions about its services.
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