If you’ve decided to get a divorce and you’ll be filing for divorce under Arkansas law, there are a few basic things that are helpful to know before deciding what type of divorce to pursue. The big decision is whether your divorce will be a fault or no-fault divorce.
The Complaint for divorce will list the name of the Plaintiff, the name of the Defendant, and will also include an explanation of the grounds for divorce. The purpose of this article is to help explain the differences between a no-fault divorce and a divorce for fault in Arkansas.
A no-fault divorce in Arkansas means that the spouse who files for divorce (the Plaintiff) can be granted a divorce without having to prove that the other spouse (the Defendant) did something wrong. A no-fault divorce can be granted under Arkansas law where the parties have lived separate and apart from one another for eighteen continuous months without cohabitation. If cohabitation occurs during that time period, the clock starts over again and a new eighteen-month time-period is required to obtain a divorce. The eighteen-month separation can be by agreement of both parties, or by one party’s unilateral decision to move out.
If the parties do not meet the criteria for a no-fault divorce, then the Plaintiff must decide which ground for a divorce for fault is appropriate for the parties’ situation. If you are the Plaintiff, you will be required to prove the grounds for divorce you have alleged unless the Defendant is willing to waive those corroboration requirements.
DIVORCE FOR FAULT
In Arkansas, the grounds for a divorce for fault include the following:
- Conviction of a felony;
- Habitual drunkenness for one (1) year;
- Endangerment of life with cruel and barbarous treatment;
- General indignities;
- Three (3) consecutive years of incurable insanity; and
- Willful failure to provide spouse with legally obligated support.
ARKANSAS CODE ANNOTATED § 9-12-301.
Although most of the grounds seem fairly self-explanatory, there are several requirements you are required to meet in order to file under each of these fault grounds for divorce. One of the requirements which applies to all fault grounds is that the grounds you are alleging must have occurred within five years prior to the date of filing. Another requirement is that the party seeking the divorce must have “clean hands” in order to be eligible to file for divorce. That means that if the Plaintiff files for divorce under the grounds of adultery (or another fault ground), then the Plaintiff must not have committed adultery (or the fault alleged), or no divorce will be granted.
Most of the grounds for a divorce based on fault are self-explanatory, with the exception of the grounds of general indignities. This is the grounds for divorce most people want to file under when seeking to get divorced in Arkansas.
With the internet making court filings so easily accessible to the public, many people fear that filing for divorce means exposing all the intimate and embarrassing details that led to an unsuccessful marriage. This can be especially concerning for parents with young children who wish to save their children from pain or embarrassment. A party seeking a divorce who cites general indignities as the ground for filing for divorce may avoid listing all the intimate details that led to the disbanding of the marriage in the complaint for divorce.
In the context of divorce law, the phrase “general indignities” simply means that the other spouse treated the party seeking the divorce in such a way that it made his or her life intolerable. If the Defendant does not refute the divorce, he/she can waive the corroboration requirements and the parties can then move forward with the tasks of splitting assets and determining custody. In these situations, the parties do not have to mention in the documents that get filed publicly in their divorce all of the specific details that led to the dissolution of the marriage.
If the Defendant, however, does not wish to be divorced and wants to refute the grounds for divorce, the Plaintiff might need to disclose specific instances that led to an intolerable life with the Defendant. In these circumstances, the Plaintiff will need to prove to the court that the Defendant was guilty of some wrongdoing that made the Plaintiff’s life with the Defendant intolerable. This scenario should not be given too much thought because there is not any real advantage to refuting the grounds for divorce. In Arkansas, judges do not take into consideration whose “fault” the divorce is when splitting up marital assets. Also, even if the Defendant does not want a divorce, the Plaintiff can file under a no-fault divorce after eighteen (18) months of separation.
Lastly, the Defendant may deny Plaintiff’s accusations in the complaint for divorce, and file a counter-claim seeking a divorce. Usually, this is just a formality in which the Defendant wants to ensure that the Defendant can pursue the divorce if the Plaintiff changes his/her mind about the divorce, or if the Plaintiff is not moving forward with the divorce as quickly as the Defendant would like. Likewise, this usually does not result in further disclosure of marital problems.
Filing for a divorce is a very difficult and intimidating step. However, divorce does not mean that you must expose every detail of your marriage to the public. As an attorney who routinely represents clients in divorce matters, I do my best to protect each client’s privacy because I believe that dissolution of the marriage should not require the parties to exploit the intimacies of their marriage.
If you are considering a divorce, or your spouse has filed for a divorce, you should consider discussing your situation with an Arkansas divorce lawyer to determine the best steps to protect your privacy and interests. A divorce attorney in Arkansas can help you determine the grounds for divorce that will best fit the situations you are facing.
by Sidney Stewart, Family Law Attorney