This article provides an overview of alimony and whether adultery has an impact on alimony awards in Arkansas. If you have questions after reading this article, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for help.
Alimony in Arkansas
During marriage, couples share the cost of basic necessities like housing, food, clothing, and transportation. But divorcing spouses suddenly become responsible for meeting these needs on their own.
Sometimes, this isn’t a problem because each spouse has a good job, plenty of savings, and access to assets. But other times, one of the spouses isn’t economically self-sufficient and needs a helping hand from the other spouse. In Arkansas, when one spouse pays financial assistance to help the other spouse, that assistance is called “alimony.” Arkansas judges have a lot of discretion (leeway) in deciding whether to award alimony and if so, in what amount and for how long.
There are different kinds of alimony in Arkansas. Temporary alimony can be ordered before or after the divorce is final. Rehabilitative (short term) alimony is awarded when the judge believes the spouse who needs help (“the obligee”) just needs financial assistance from the wealthier spouse (“the obligor”) for as long as it takes to financially recover, become educated or trained, get a good job, and become self-sufficient. Permanent (long term) alimony can be awarded, but generally only in long-term marriages where the obligee is in very poor health or is completely financially dependent on the obligor.
Get detailed information how the amount of alimony is determined, see Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Arkansas.
What Role Does Adultery Play in an Arkansas Divorce?
A good definition of adultery is that during marriage, a spouse enters into a voluntary sexual relationship, whether brief or long-term, with someone who isn’t the other spouse.
Adultery plays a special role in Arkansas divorce law. The Arkansas Code specifically provides that adultery is a “grounds,” or basis, for divorce. This applies to regular civil marriages as well as “covenant marriages” (which are identical to other civil marriages except that the couple has undergone special premarital counseling).
There are several possible defenses if your spouse asks to end your marriage on the grounds of adultery. The Arkansas Code says that you can’t divorce due to adultery if:
- the adultery happened because both spouses colluded (secretly planned) it
- the adulterous spouse only committed adultery because of a secret desire to get divorced
- the “innocent spouse” (the victim of the adultery) actually agreed to it, or
- both spouses committed adultery.
Keep in mind that even if you can’t get divorced on grounds of adultery, it’s very likely that your spouse can divorce you for another reason.
How Does Adultery Affect Alimony Awards in Arkansas?
Alimony in Arkansas has to be reasonable, meaning fair and logical when weighed against the individual facts of the case. There is no exclusive list of factors Arkansas courts (or just courts) will look at to decide what makes a reasonable and fair alimony award. Judges just have to decide what makes sense and is just under the circumstances. But generally speaking, judges who are trying to decide whether to award alimony, for how long, and in what amount, will consider information like:
- how long the spouses were married
- the health and age of the spouses
- the education, training, career history, and future prospects of each spouse
- the amount of assets and liabilities each spouse will have after the divorce is final, and
- whether one spouse gave up the opportunity to pursue a career to be a stay-at-home caretaker for the children, and
- whether one spouse financially supported the other spouse’s professional education.
When it comes to adultery and its relationship to the alimony award, Arkansas courts have decided that marital misconduct may or may not be something that “meaningfully relates to need or the ability to pay.” In the facts of one key case, Wright v. Wright, 302 Ark 157 (1990), the spouses traded accusations of adultery. The Arkansas Supreme Court found that evidence of adultery was irrelevant because it didn’t reflect on the obligee’s need for alimony or the obligor’s ability to provide it.
But no Arkansas court has ever said that adultery is a complete non-factor in deciding adultery issues, and if the facts had been slightly different the outcome might have been that one of the spouses had to pay alimony. For example, what if one of the spouses in Wright had been able to prove that the other spouse committed adultery, that the adultery caused the “innocent spouse” to have a serious mental breakdown, be hospitalized, and then be laid off from work? Under those facts, the court might very well have concluded that the adultery affected the obligee’s need to receive financial support.
Adultery can be considered when deciding whether to award alimony in Arkansas. It can also be used to help decide how much alimony to award, and for how long. The only limitation is that the adultery must meaningfully relate to the obligee’s need for support or the obligor’s ability to provide it.
If you have questions about alimony and adultery in Arkansas, please contact an experienced family law attorney for help.
For self-help purposes, you can also read Title 9 (Family Law) of the current Arkansas Code, browse the Self-Help Resources listed at the Arkansas Judiciary website, or check out the family law forms made available by the Arkansas Legal Services Partnerships, which offers legal aid to low-income Arkansans.