Adultery in Arkansas: Does Cheating Affect Alimony?

Learn whether adultery can affect alimony in an Arkansas divorce.

By , Retired Judge

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 spouse may not be economically self-sufficient at the time of the divorce. In these cases, the higher-earning spouse may need to provide financial support to the other spouse for a period of time during the divorce and/or after the case if over.

In Arkansas, when one spouse pays financial assistance to help the other spouse, that assistance is called "alimony." (Alimony is sometimes referred to as "spousal support" or "maintenance".) Arkansas judges have wide discretion in deciding whether to award alimony, as well as the amount and duration.

Arkansas spousal support laws are rather vague. The applicable statute simply says that judges can issue alimony orders "as are reasonable from the circumstances of the parties and the nature of the case." (Ark. Code Ann. § 9-12-312 (a) (1).) What this means as a practical matter is that judges can look at a variety of factors in addressing alimony.

The law does specifically reference one type of spousal support known as "rehabilitative" alimony. (Ark. Code Ann. § 9-12-312 (b) (1).) This applies to situations where one of the spouses needs time and/or training to get into the workforce, with an eye toward becoming self-sufficient.

In awarding rehabilitative alimony, the court may require the recipient spouse to present a plan laying out how that spouse intends to attain self-sufficiency. (Ark. Code Ann. § 9-12-312 (b) (2).)

Today, rehabilitative alimony is more the norm than "permanent" alimony, which is where a spouse receives support for a lengthy period of time. Permanent alimony is usually restricted to long-term marriages, particularly where the recipient spouse is unlikely to become fully self-supporting because of age, health, or other contributing factors.

Determining alimony can be a complicated process. You should consider consulting with a local divorce lawyer to see whether alimony is applicable in your case.

What Role Does Adultery Play in an Arkansas Divorce?

Arkansas law permits both "no-fault" and "fault-based" grounds (reasons) for divorce. With no-fault divorce, neither spouse blames the other for the break up. In a fault-based divorce, a spouse claims that the other engaged in marital misconduct which caused the divorce.

The only "no-fault" ground that exists in Arkansas is that the spouses have lived separate and apart for 18 continuous months, without cohabitation (sexual relations). (Ark. Code Ann. § 9-12-301 (b) (5).) A separation is not the same as the classic no-fault ground of incompatibility, but it still avoids one spouse claiming the other caused the divorce.

The state also has a number of fault-based grounds. If your spouse has been unfaithful and you're seeking a divorce in Arkansas, adultery is one of the grounds upon which you can base a request to legally end your marriage. (Ark. Code Ann. § 9-12-301 (b) (4).)

Does Adultery Affect Alimony Awards in Arkansas?

It's unlikely that adultery will have a direct affect on alimony. As indicated above, the statute is short on specifics as to guidelines for a judge to follow in awarding alimony. As a general rule, judges take into consideration items such as:

  • how long the spouses were married
  • the spouses' health and ages
  • 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
  • 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 education.

Spousal fault isn't referenced in the statutes that deal with alimony. The reality is that alimony awards will likely come down to a judge's determination as to one spouse's need for it and the other spouse's ability to pay it.

Does Adultery Affect Custody or Child Support in Arkansas?

Not usually. That said, be mindful that when it comes to custody matters, judges are obligated to prioritize the best interests of the child. So if a parent's philandering jeopardizes a child's well-being, then that could certainly enter into a judge's decision regarding the parent's right to custody or parenting time (visitation).

Let's say, for example, that a parent frequently leaves a young child unattended while that parent is out engaging in an adulterous affair. When it comes time for a judge to make a ruling on the issue of custody, the neglectful parent would be hard-pressed to make a convincing argument for being entrusted with the child's care.

As for child support, the amount of time a child spends with the parent who is obligated to pay support can impact a determination of the support amount. As a rule, the more parenting time those parents have with a child, the less child support they'll have to pay, because they're spending money on the child during parenting time.

Unlike most other states, Arkansas's child support guidelines don't automatically factor parenting time into the calculation of support. But judges are permitted to at least consider parenting time when deciding on a support amount. So if the court denies or significantly limits parenting time because of a parent's adulterous behavior, the offending parent could end up paying a higher amount in support.