Divorce is one of the more common civil lawsuits in the United States. In 2022, Arkansas was listed fifth among the top states with the highest divorce rates in a study conducted by Texas Divorce Laws, with 325,212 couples divorced compared to 1,408,439 who are married. That constitutes a divorce rate of 18.75%. If you or someone close to you is being faced with an impending divorce, you may be curious about what these legal proceedings actually entail. Certainly, one of the most daunting parts of a divorce proceeding is the very beginning, when most clients are not sure what to expect. For the most part, the length, cost, and inner workings of a divorce proceeding will be highly contingent on the specific facts and what is contested. However, a few aspects of every divorce will look relatively the same. Here is what you can count on when initiating a divorce proceeding:
First, one of the married parties will “file for divorce.” This means that an attorney will file a divorce complaint that asks the court to terminate the marriage. Importantly, this petition must include a stated legal reason for divorce. These reasons will be different in every state and are outlined by statute. Some states have what is called “no-fault divorce,” which allows the parties to divorce without requiring a showing of fault or wrongdoing by one or both parties. Essentially, no-fault divorce allows people to end their marriages for any reason, whether a party actually be at fault or not. In Arkansas you must prove fault by establishing one of the grounds for divorce set out in AR Cod Annotated Sec. 9-12-301, or if the parties have lived separate and apart for at least 18 continuous months then no fault must be established.
.Ark. Code Ann. § 9-12-301 outlines the legally recognized grounds for divorce in Arkansas. It states that a marriage may be resolved for the following reasons: either party is convicted of a felony or other infamous crime, either party is addicted to habitual drunkenness for one year, either party has committed adultery subsequent to the marriage, and the most common ground for divorce in Arkansas is what is called “general indignities.”
After filing a complaint for divorce, and depending on the specific circumstances, the parties may find it necessary to file some temporary orders. Because divorce, like all legal proceedings, can be a slower process than ideal, parties may wish to have some issues temporarily resolved before they can get to court. These generally seek to temporarily resolve issues such as custody, child support, alimony, etc.; temporary orders are often requested and serve an important purpose of protecting and maintaining the parties and their needs as the lawsuit proceeds.
Additionally, an order of protection may be requested in situations where a party seeks court protection if the filing party believes he/she is in immediate and present danger of domestic abuse. The procedures for filing an Order of Protection are outlined in Ark. Code Ann. § 9-15-206, providing relief in the form of excluding abusing parties from the marital residence, and may also address matters such as, awarding temporary custody or establishing temporary visitation, ordering temporary support, and prohibiting contact between the parties.
Once the party that has filed for divorce has obtained service of the complaint on the other spouse, ae proof of service will be filed which shows the complaint was served, and puts the opposing spouse on notice of the proceedings. After this point the parties may engage in exchange of documents in a procedure call the discovery stage. Once the discovery state is complete, the most difficult, and possibly contentious, part of the divorce commences with either negotiation of a settlement or going to trial. This phase of the proceeding sorts out all of the necessary details that come with dissolution of marriage such as custody, support, property division, and more. The finer details and requirements for each of these areas is outlined in Arkansas’ Domestic Relations statutes. If settling presents challenges, parties may choose to utilize mediation with a neutral third party that assists the parties in trying to find ways to resolve the parties pending and/or remaining issues between the two sides. While not required, mediation can be a beneficial option that is often more economical, more time-expedient, and can be less traumatic.
If you or your spouse have filed or are considering starting the divorce process, an attorney’s guidance is a must. Miller Butler has several attorneys with vast family law experience who can help you navigate this process today.