Alimony is intended to provide some financial assistance for a spouse who needs it during the divorce process and for a period of time after the final divorce. If you or your spouse is (or will be) requesting alimony as part of the process of filing for divorce in Arkansas, you should understand how it works and how judges make alimony decisions—even if you hope to reach an agreement on the issue and avoid a trial (more on that below).
Basically, there are three kinds of alimony in Arkansas:
Judges may order one spouse to pay temporary alimony (also known as separate maintenance) while the divorce process is underway. (Ark. Code § 9-12-309(a) (2023).)
Typically, temporary alimony continues until the divorce is final. However, the judge may grant a request to change or modify the support prior to that if there's a good reason to do so.
Rehabilitative alimony is the most common type of alimony in Arkansas. Its goal is to provide financial support for a certain period of time while the recipient gets the training or education (or both) needed to improve employment prospects and become self-supporting.
The requesting spouse will need to provide a rehabilitation plan if the other spouse requests it or the judge orders it. The judge will then decide:
(Ark. Code § 9-12-312(b)(2) (2023).)
Judges typically award rehabilitative alimony when one spouse has taken time away from paid or full-time employment while caring for children and the family home or supporting the other spouse's career or business.
Permanent alimony is increasingly rare in Arkansas and many other states. These days, this type of long-term spousal support is generally reserved for spouses who have poor employment prospects after a lengthy marriage because of their age or health.
Judges may decide to award both rehabilitative and permanent alimony when it's appropriate under the circumstances. For instance, if an older spouse needs time to gain the skills for any employment—but is unlikely ever to be fully self-supporting—the judge might order rehabilitative alimony for two years followed by a lower amount of permanent alimony. (Middleton v. Middleton, 609 S.W.3d 652 (Ark. Ct. App. 2020).)
Permanent alimony doesn't necessarily last until a spouse dies. It automatically ends under certain other conditions, and the judge may consider a request from the paying spouse to end the payments if there's been a change in circumstances (more on both of those issues below).
Unlike many other states, the laws in Arkansas don't spell out a list of factors that judges must consider when they making decisions about alimony. However, Arkansas courts have filled that void.
Although judges have a lot of leeway to decide on a reasonable alimony award, the state's courts have agreed that their primary considerations should be:
Beyond that, judges should look at a number of secondary factors, including:
These factors apply to both rehabilitative and permanent alimony. (Foster v. Foster, 506 S.W.3d 808 (Ark. Sup. Ct. 2016).)
As with rehabilitative and permanent alimony, Arkansas law doesn't provide a formula for calculating temporary alimony or separate maintenance. It's up to the judge to decide what's fair based on a couple's circumstances.
The purpose of temporary alimony is to maintain the standard of living the couple enjoyed during the marriage, while the divorce process moves forward. That isn't possible in most cases, because it's more expensive to maintain two households than a shared one. Still, judges do the best they can to maintain the status quo. And as long as their awards are reasonable, appellate courts won't overrule them.
It's worth pointing out that a temporary alimony award may differ from the amount of rehabilitative or permanent alimony awarded at the end of the divorce.
Under Arkansas laws on alimony, either spouse may request support. If one spouse needs financial help and the other can afford to pay it, the judge will order the higher-earning spouse to pay alimony to the lower-earning spouse, regardless of their genders.
Temporary alimony ends when the divorce is finalized. Rehabilitative alimony will last as long as the judge finds it's necessary for the recipient to become self-supporting, based on the specific circumstances in the case. The order will generally specify the date when alimony payments will stop.
Any type of alimony will automatically terminate when:
(Ark. Code § 9-12-312(a)(2) (2023).)
Whether you're paying or receiving alimony, you may file a motion (legal request) with the court to modify alimony payments. But you'll need to show that there has been a change in circumstances that's both significant and material. (Ark. Code § 9-12-312(a)(7) (2023).) A material change is one that affects the recipient's need for support or the other spouse's ability to pay, such as when a spouse has become permanently disabled or involuntarily unemployed.
Additionally, if a spouse who was required to submit a rehabilitative plan doesn't meet the plan's requirements, the other spouse may ask the court for a review to determine if rehabilitative alimony should continue or be modified. (Ark. Code § 9-12-312(b)(3) (2023).)
Be aware that in most situations, unless you and your spouse have an agreement about the proposed changes, alimony modification proceedings involve complicated legal issues that are best handled by an experienced family law attorney.
If your divorce was final before 2019, the payor spouse may continue to deduct alimony payments for purposes of federal income taxes, and the recipient must report those payments as income. However, for all couples who divorced after 2018, the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminated any tax deduction or income reporting requirements for alimony. That means the Internal Revenue Service won't count these payments as income for the recipient, and the payor spouse won't get the deduction.
However, the change applies only to federal income taxes. Arkansas tax law still requires recipients to include alimony payments as income on their state tax returns, and payor spouses may still deduct eligible alimony payments. (Ark. Code § 26-51-404(a)(1)(F) (2023).)
The difference between federal and state tax law in Arkansas can complicate settlement negotiations over the issue of alimony, because it makes it more difficult to figure out the overall tax consequences. If you have any questions about this issue, you should speak with an Arkansas family lawyer or tax expert.
As with all other issues in your divorce, you and your spouse always have the option of reaching a settlement agreement that addresses whether one of you will pay alimony and, if so, how much the payments will be, the payment method, how long the maintenance will last, and whether either of you may seek a modification in the future.
If you're having trouble agreeing about any of these issues, divorce mediation can help you resolve your differences. And if you're hesitant about negotiating a compromise, it may help to know that going to trial increases the cost of divorce exponentially, as well as making the process more stressful and take longer.