The end of a marriage, which eventually leads to divorce, can result in a slew of emotional and practical issues. In general, the divorce process in Arkansas will necessitate going through the legal system.
Although it may appear to be a daunting task, it doesn’t have to be a difficult ordeal, especially if you and your soon-to-be ex work together. Here’s what you need to know to begin your Arkansas divorce.
How to File for Divorce in Arkansas – Cost and Procedures
Before you decide to file for divorce, there are a few things you should think about.
The Residency Requirements For Divorce In Arkansas
If you live in Arkansas and intend to file for divorce, either you or your spouse must have lived in the state for 60 days prior to filing the initial divorce paperwork and for three months by the time the judge signs the final divorce judgment.
You must also provide supporting documentation to demonstrate that you meet these residency requirements.
Legal Grounds For Divorce In Arkansas
In Arkansas, you must have a legally acceptable reason or grounds for divorce.
This state allows divorce based on a spouse’s misconduct, such as adultery, felony conviction, habitual drunkenness, or cruelty that endangers the other spouse’s life.
However, pursuing a fault-based divorce will necessitate proving the misconduct occurred.
It takes a significant amount of time, money, and stress, and it may give your spouse a motivation to fight the divorce.
In Arkansas, “no-fault divorce” is permitted, which means that neither spouse accuses the other of wrongdoing.
However, unlike most states, Arkansas will not allow you to simply declare that you and your spouse have ‘irreconcilable differences’ or that the marriage has permanently broken down.
Instead, you and your spouse must have lived apart without sexual relations for an extended period. Unless you have a ‘covenant marriage,’ in which case the required separation period is at least 18 months. Similar to the residency requirement, you must provide evidential matter to demonstrate that you have met the separation requirement.
The grounds for divorce and the minimum separation period for a no-fault divorce in Arkansas differ for couples who have entered into a covenant marriage.
If you’re unsure whether you have a covenant marriage, you most likely do not.
In general, these marriages are uncommon, and you must meet special requirements before receiving the marriage license, such as filing a statement of intent and a written statement that you received a specific type of premarital counseling.
Is It Uncontested Or Contested?
If you’re able to file for an uncontested divorce in Arkansas, the entire process will be easier, faster, and less expensive than a traditional contested divorce.
However, for a divorce to be truly uncontested, you and your spouse must have reached an agreement on all marital issues, including:
- The distribution of your assets and debt
- Child support and custody (if you have minor children)
Once all these issues have been resolved, the settlement terms are typically incorporated into a marital settlement agreement, which can then become a part of your divorce judgment.
Another advantage of an uncontested divorce in Arkansas is that you can have a witness sign an affidavit (sworn statement) to prove your residency or separation, which you can then present to the court.
Is Professional Assistance Necessary When Filing For A Divorce?
When you have a settlement agreement and a relatively straightforward case, you’re more likely to handle the divorce filing yourself.
A divorce you’ll handle yourself may be a less expensive way to end your marriage.
However, it’ll take some time and careful attention to detail to ensure you have gathered all of the necessary forms, filled them out carefully, and followed all of the steps and requirements for divorce in the exact right manner and detail required by the State of Arkansas.
If you’re on a tight budget and cannot afford to hire an attorney to represent you in your divorce, there are other options for getting help as you go through the process.
You could try one or a combination of the following:
- If you want the benefits of an uncontested divorce but are having difficulty agreeing with your partner on certain issues, divorce mediation may help you work through the issues and reach an agreement.
- You can file for divorce online by using a service that’ll provide you with completed forms as well as a walkthrough of the process. Online divorce services, on the other hand, typically require that you have an uncontested divorce.
- If you plan to go through the solo or online divorce route, it’s a good idea to consult with a lawyer if you have any questions or want an independent legal evaluation of your settlement agreement.
Remember that if you cannot reach an agreement, you must file for a traditional contested divorce.
Understandably, it’ll almost certainly necessitate the assistance of a lawyer, who’ll manage the forms, filing, and other legal activities associated with the divorce.
Preparation Of The Initial Divorce Documentation
The first step in starting the legal divorce process is gathering all of the necessary forms.
Arkansas Legal Aid can provide you with an interactive questionnaire that will generate the documents you need to file for divorce, but only if you don’t have children or have limited assets.
In the case of complex divorces, you may be able to obtain forms from the Circuit Court Clerk’s office in the county where you intend to file for divorce.
If it’s more convenient for you, you can also use an online divorce service to find Arkansas divorce forms.
If you’re the one initiating the divorce, you should fill out the forms as the ‘plaintiff’. Your spouse will be referred to as the ‘defendant.’
Make certain that you complete the divorce complaint as well as a Domestic Relations Cover Sheet.
If you and your partner have minor children, you must also complete a Confidential Information Sheet as well as a Child Support Worksheet.
How To Serve Your Spouse In Arkansas
After you’ve finished filling out and signing the forms, you must file the divorce paperwork with the Circuit Court Clerk’s office in the Arkansas county where you live.
If you’re not an Arkansas resident, you should file the papers in the county where your spouse lives.
In some Alabama circuit courts, you may be able to file the divorce papers electronically using the state’s eFlex system. To sign up for the system, you must pay a registration fee.
It’s important to note that the court clerk will charge a fee for filing the divorce papers.
As of 2022, the basic filing fee is $165, or $185 if you file electronically. However, keep in mind that it’s always subject to change, so make sure you check ahead of time to confirm the most recent fee.
If you’re unable to pay the fee, you can ask the court to waive it in your case by submitting a ‘Petition for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis’ along with a supplementary affidavit.
The court will determine whether you meet the requirements for a waiver based on the information you’ve presented about your assets, income, and debts.
When you file your divorce papers, the court clerk will issue you a summons.
The summons and the remainder of your divorce papers must then be delivered to your spouse.
You can achieve this by employing one of the following methods:
First class mail.
You can send the divorce papers to your spouse via U.S. mail as well as two copies of the Form for Notice and Acknowledgement of Service, and a stamped envelope with your return address.
Your spouse should sign the acknowledgement and return it to you via mail.
Commercial delivery service or certified mail (return receipt requested).
If you intend to use a commercial delivery service, it must be authorized by the court and necessitate a signature upon delivery.
If the mail carrier or delivery person signs an affidavit stating that your spouse rejects the divorce papers, you should resend the documents by regular mail, along with a notification that the judge may enter a default divorce judgment without your spouse’s engagement.
If you don’t receive your spouse’s affirmation of service within 20 days of mailing the package via regular mail, you must pay for the sheriff’s office or another court-approved process server to hand-deliver the paperwork to your spouse.
However, unless there was a reasonable cause for refusing to recognize the service on time, the judge will order your spouse to shoulder the cost.
If you haven’t been able to locate your spouse to deliver the divorce papers, you should consult with the court clerk about alternative ways of service, such as newspaper publication.
It’s critical to remember that if you don’t serve your spouse within 120 days of filing the divorce complaint, and there’s no decent cause for the delay, the court will likely dismiss your case.
What Are The Next Steps In The Divorce Process In Arkansas?
Following the filing and delivery of divorce papers, you must attend to the following tasks in order to move your case forward.
Responding to the Divorce Petition
After being served with the divorce complaint, the defendant spouse usually has 30 days to respond. Your spouse will customarily file an ‘answer’ that approves or contradicts that which you’ve stated or demanded in the complaint.
You must file an Affidavit of Financial Means with the court in any divorce involving family support, such as child support.
The document will ask you to provide a substantial amount of data about your income and assets, as well as attach relevant documentation to back up the numbers you’ll provide.
It’s best to gather as much information as possible ahead of time because it’s critical that you fill out this form completely.
Remember that being truthful is essential because a spouse who fails to reveal all accounts, assets, or debts may face penalties such as fines and potentially jail time.
Parenting education or custody mediation
If it applies to your specific case, the judge may order you and your spouse to do one of the following:
- Complete a minimum of two hours of classes on parenting issues divorced parents usually face
- Participate in custody mediation, including visitation and parenting time
Alimony laws in Arkansas
Couples will split the cost of basic necessities such as food, housing, and clothing, to name a few. Unfortunately, when there’s a divorce, spouses must suddenly meet those needs on their own.
If each spouse has a good paying job, access to assets, or savings, it isn’t always an issue. However, there are some cases where one spouse is not financially self-sufficient at the time of divorce.
Alimony is the term used in Arkansas to describe financial assistance paid by one spouse to the other spouse. The judge may have broad discretion in determining whether to award alimony, as well as the duration and amount.
Arkansas spousal support laws can be ambiguous. Judges can consider a variety of factors when determining alimony.
Alimony determination can be a difficult process. It’s best to consult with a local divorce lawyer to see if alimony is appropriate in your situation.
Finalizing Your Divorce
Even if your divorce is uncontested, an Arkansas judge may not grant a final divorce until at least 30 days after you file the complaint.
Depending on the judge assigned to your case, you may or may not be required to attend a court hearing to finalize an uncontested divorce.
In some cases, the judge may permit you to file a sworn statement to prove your residency and separation.
As a result, it’s best to contact the judge’s or court clerk’s office to find out which policy applies to your case.
However, even if you do appear, the hearing is usually brief. When everything is in order, the judge will grant your divorce and include any settlement agreement in the final divorce decree.
A trial is likely if you have a contested case and are unable to resolve all issues at some point during the process.
After hearing the testimony, the judge may take it into account when making a decision on unresolved issues.
In general, it’s one of the most time-consuming and expensive ways to obtain a divorce judgment, typically lasting a year or more.
Keeping this in mind, most cases settle before going to trial.