Along with the emotional and practical issues involved in ending a marriage, the divorce process itself requires navigating the legal system in Arkansas. While that might seem overwhelming, it doesn't have to be all that difficult, particularly if you and your soon-to-be ex can cooperate. Here's what you need to know to get started with an Arkansas divorce.
Before you begin the process of filing for divorce, you should figure out the answers to a few preliminary questions.
In order to get an Arkansas divorce, either you or your spouse must have resided in the state for 60 days just before you filed the initial divorce papers and for three full months by the time the judge signs the final divorce judgment. You'll have to provide corroborating evidence to prove that you meet these residency requirements. (Ark. Code §§ 9-12-306(c), 9-12-307(a)(1)(A) (2022).)
If you can file for an uncontested divorce in Arkansas, the entire process will be much easier, quicker, and cheaper than a traditional contested divorce. But for a divorce to be truly uncontested, you and your spouse must have agreed about all your marital issues, including:
Once those issues are resolved, it's typical to incorporate the settlement terms in a marital settlement agreement, which can then become a part of your divorce judgment.
Another benefit of an uncontested divorce in Arkansas is that, in order to prove your residency or separation, you may simply have a witness sign an affidavit (sworn statement), which you can then present to the court. (Ark. Code § 9-12-306(c)(2) (2022).)
As in all states, you need a legally accepted reason (or "ground") for divorce in Arkansas. The state allows "no-fault" divorce (meaning neither spouse is accusing the other of misconduct). Unlike most states, however, Arkansas doesn't let you simply declare that you and your spouse have "irreconcilable differences" or that your marriage has permanently broken down. Instead, to get a no-fault divorce, you and your spouse must have lived separate and apart (without sexual relations) for a significant period of time. Unless you have a "covenant marriage," the required separation period is a minimum of 18 continuous months. As with the residency requirement, you'll need to prove that you've met the separation requirement with corroborating evidence. (Ark. Code §§ 19-12-301(b)(5), 9-12-306(c) (2022).)
Arkansas also allows divorce based on a spouse's misconduct (like adultery, habitual drunkenness, conviction of a felony, cruelty that endangers the other spouse's life, or "indignities" that make the other spouse's life intolerable). Pursuing a fault-based divorce usually requires providing supporting evidence to prove that the misconduct occurred—which can involve a lot of time, money, and anxiety.
However, Arkansas has two exceptions to the proof requirement in fault-based divorces: when you file for an uncontested divorce, or when your spouse signs a written waiver of the need to provide corroborating evidence. (Ark. Code § 9-12-306 (2022).) Either of these could potentially be ways around the separation requirement for a no-fault divorce, but your spouse would have to agree to having the fault-based ground on the official divorce papers.
For couples who've entered into a covenant marriage in Arkansas, the grounds for divorce—and the minimum separation period for a no-fault divorce—are different. (Ark. Code § 9-11-808 (2022).) If you aren't sure whether you have a covenant marriage, you probably don't. These marriages are rare, and you must have met special requirements before you got the marriage license, including filing a statement of intent and an affidavit that you received a certain type of premarital counseling.
If you have a settlement agreement and a relatively uncomplicated case, you should be able to handle filing for divorce yourself. A do-it-yourself (DIY) divorce will be the cheapest route to ending your marriage, but it will take some time and attention to detail to make sure you have all the right forms, fill them out correctly, and follow all of the steps and requirements for divorce in Arkansas.
Short of having an attorney represent you in the divorce, there are other ways of getting help with the process. For example, you could do one or a combination of the following:
Without an agreement, you'll need to file for a traditional contested divorce. Because that will almost certainly require hiring a lawyer—who will take care of the forms, filing, and all other legal matters during the divorce—the information outlined below is mainly focused on the filing process for folks who are handling their own divorce.
To start the legal divorce process, the first step is to gather the forms you'll need. Arkansas Legal Aid provides an interactive questionnaire that will produce the documents you need to file for divorce—but only if you don't have children and own limited property. For more complex divorces, you may be able to get the necessary forms from the Circuit Court Clerk's office in the county where you're filing for divorce (more on that below). You could also use an online divorce service that provides forms for Arkansas.
If you're the one starting the divorce process, you'll fill out the forms as the "plaintiff." Your spouse will then be called the "defendant." You'll need to complete the divorce complaint and a Domestic Relations Cover Sheet. If you and your spouse have minor children, you'll also need to fill out a Confidential Information Sheet and a Child Support Worksheet.
After you've finished completing and signing the forms, the next step will be to file the divorce paperwork with the Circuit Court Clerk's office in the Arkansas county where you live. If you aren't an Arkansas resident, then you should file the papers in the county where your spouse lives. (Ark. Code § 9-12-303(a) (2022).)
Some circuit courts in Arkansas allow you to file your divorce papers electronically, through the state's eFlex system. You'll have to pay a registration fee to sign up for the system.
Be aware that the court clerk charges a fee for filing the divorce papers. The basic filing fee was $165 as of 2022 (or $185 if you file electronically). But it's always subject to change, so check ahead of time to confirm the current fee. If you can't afford to pay, you can ask the court to waive the fees in your case by filing a "Petition for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis" and a supporting affidavit. Based on the information you've provided about your income, assets, and debts, the court will let you know if you qualify for a waiver.
When you file the divorce papers, the court clerk will give you a summons. Then, you must serve your spouse with the summons and the rest of your divorce papers. You may do this by using one of the following methods:
If you don't receive your spouse's acknowledgment of service within 20 days after you mailed the package by regular mail, you'll have to pay for the sheriff's office or another court-approved process server to hand-deliver the documents to your spouse. But in that case, the judge will order your spouse to pay the cost unless there was a good reason for not returning the acknowledgment of service in time. (Ark. Rules Civ. Proc, rule 4 (2022).)
If you haven't been able to find your spouse to serve the divorce papers, check with the court clerk about alternative methods of service, such as publication in a newspaper.
It's important to remember that if you don't serve your spouse within 120 days after you filed the divorce complaint, and there isn't a good reason for the delay, the court will dismiss your case. (Ark. Rules Civ. Proc., rule 4(i) (2022).)
After you've filed and served the divorce papers, pay attention to the next steps needed to move your case along.
Ordinarily, a defendant spouse has 30 days to respond after being served with the divorce complaint. (Ark. Rules Civ. Proc., rule 12 (2022).) Usually, your spouse will file an "answer" that agrees or disagrees with what you've stated or requested in the complaint.
In any divorce involving family support (such as child support), you're obligated to file an Affidavit of Financial Means with the court. This document requires you to provide a great deal of data about your income and assets, including attaching documentation to back up your figures.
It's a good idea to gather as much of this information in advance as you can, because it's important that you be as thorough as possible in completing this form. Honesty is imperative, because a spouse who fails to disclose all accounts, debts, or assets could face penalties, such as fines and possibly jail time.
If it's appropriate in your particular case, the judge may order you and your spouse to do one of the following:
(Ark. Code § 9-12-322(a) (2022).)
Even when your case is uncontested, a judge in Arkansas won't grant a final divorce until at least 30 days after you've filed the complaint. (Ark. Code § 9-12-307(a)(1)(B) (2022).) Depending on the judge who's been assigned to your case, you may or may not have to attend a court hearing to finalize an uncontested divorce. Some judges will allow you to submit an affidavit to verify your residency and separation (discussed above). So you should call the judge's or court clerk's office to find out the policy that will apply to your case. But even if you have to make an appearance, the hearing will usually be very short. If everything is in order, the judge will grant your divorce and incorporate any settlement agreement in the final divorce judgment.
If your case is contested, and you aren't able to settle all your issues at some point during the process, you'll have a trial. After hearing testimony, a judge will make a decision on those issues that remain unresolved. This is by far the longest and costliest route to obtaining your divorce judgment, and it can take a year or more. That's why the vast majority of cases settle at some point before trial.