Alimony is money one spouse pays to the other either during a divorce and/or for some period of time afterwards. In Arkansas, alimony is sometimes called "spousal maintenance" or "spousal support." Particularly if one spouse has focused on a career outside of the home and the other has focused on domestic responsibilities, courts generally require the higher earner—whether the husband or the wife—to assist the lower earner in maintaining their marital lifestyle for at least some period of time.
A judge in Arkansas may award temporary spousal support during divorce proceedings—sometimes referred to as alimony “pendente lite”—as well as either temporary or permanent alimony after the divorce is final. One spouse generally pays the other a specified amount periodically for a predetermined period of time.
Permanent alimony was once common but is becoming increasingly rare. Particularly in shorter marriages, Arkansas courts tend to look at alimony as rehabilitative—a temporary arrangement to allow a spouse to find a job or obtain training or education to improve employment prospects. In some situations, a court might award temporary alimony payments as reimbursement to a spouse who supported the family while the other spouse got a degree to increase earning potential. Permanent alimony is generally reserved for spouses with very poor employment prospects due to ill health or advanced age. A couple can also agree between themselves that one spouse will receive long-term or permanent alimony.
Before awarding any type of alimony, an Arkansas court must find that one spouse has financial need and the other has the ability to pay. Factors the court will consider in making this determination include:
There is no absolute formula for calculating alimony in Arkansas. However, the Arkansas Supreme Court has indicated, in its child support guidelines, that an award of 20% of the other spouse’s net take home pay (in addition to child support) is presumably an appropriate temporary support award for a dependent spouse who is also a custodial parent. In calculating any permanent spousal support, a court may consider the guidelines, but must also consider all other relevant factors. A judge has great discretion in deciding how much alimony to award, or whether to award it at all.
Unless the couple agrees not to seek any changes to the original spousal support award in court, either spouse can ask the court to modify alimony payments due to a material change in circumstances. Absent an agreement between the spouses, alimony will terminate automatically if the recipient spouse remarries. It will also terminate if the recipient spouse enters into a relationship and has a child with someone other than the spouse paying alimony, if a court either orders the other parent of the child to pay support to the recipient spouse or orders the recipient spouse to pay support to the other parent.
Periodic alimony payments are usually taxable to the recipient and tax-deductible by the payer. Couples can sometimes take advantage of this situation by structuring alimony payments to create the best possible tax scenario for both spouses.