As well-seasoned divorce lawyers, we created a series of blogs for those of you thinking of divorce in Arkansas. Over the next few weeks we’ll be posting thoughts about grounds for divorce, orders of protection, real and personal property, covenant marriage, who pays and more. For information about Leigh Law’s Family & Domestic Law services, click here. We also answer several of your most common questions on our FAQ page.
Surprisingly, it is not uncommon for one party to a union to move to a new state and file immediately for divorce. Sometimes there are valid reasons: moving home to family to help with children, escaping an abusive spouse… sometimes the reason is more nefarious: moving to a non-marital property state to preserve assets!
You must be an Arkansas Resident
Arkansas has some specific rules you must meet to qualify to get a divorce here. These are just the basics to get in the door! First, you must be a resident of the State of Arkansas for at least sixty days before you file for divorce. This means you have to move here, live here, and when you move you have to intend to remain here. The day you move is day 1 and you must reside here sixty days before you can even file the divorce action.
What is a resident, you ask? A resident is someone who actually resides in Arkansas and intends to continue residing here. A long trip, moving in with mom with an intention to move back from where you came does not create residency!
You must have an Arkansas Driver’s License
We also require that you obtain an Arkansas driver’s license within thirty days of moving here; the divorce laws don’t mention a driver’s license, so it’s not a specific requirement, but certainly helps to prove residency if your living intentions are challenged by your spouse.
You must Remain an Arkansas Resident
To get your divorce in Arkansas, you also have to be a resident when the judge signs the divorce decree. Divorces take a minimum of 30 days, but hotly contested ones can take months. Sometimes, parties live here when they file but in the midst of the divorce take a job out of state or move home to family out of state for emotional or financial support. Don’t do this!! We’ve had clients be residents when they hire us; but decide to move in the middle of the divorce. This is not okay!
To finalize a divorce, you have to live in Arkansas and swear under oath and penalty of perjury that you live in Arkansas; AND, you must have a witness who also lives in Arkansas – friend, family member, neighbor come to court and swear under oath and penalty of perjury that you live in Arkansas too!
If you are the plaintiff and you move before the divorce is final, then you can’t get divorced in Arkansas – Arkansas will lose jurisdiction.
What is jurisdiction, you ask?
Jurisdiction is what gives the judge the authority to tell you and your spouse what to do! It can get complicated if folks file in different states at the same time or close to the same time; but generally, it is not a complicated concept. Arkansas judges can tell Arkansas residents what to do and can tell folks who do business with, marry, contract with, Arkansas residents what to do in relation to the business or marriage contract too.
Jurisidiction is state wide and without it, a judge has no authority to make rulings or force anyone to do anything. All judges have jurisdiction over residents of their state – which is why you have to live here. If you don’t live in Arkansas, then the judge has no authority to grant you a divorce or make your spouse pay support or bring your children back to you. Jurisdiction is vital – without it we have no divorce. Without residency we have no jurisdiction! So, don’t move in the middle of your divorce.
You’ll also hear talk about venue. This is a less critical concept and can be waived.
All divorces are published in the paper; sometimes parties want to file in a different county to avoid the embarrassment of their friends, family, business associates from seeing their divorce filing in the local paper. Venue is on a county or court basis – so, we might decide to file in Lonoke County even though you live in White County to avoid all your friends and neighbors seeing you in the White County paper! We can file in any county we want to file in Arkansas, assuming your spouse doesn’t object.
Venue can also change in the court of the divorce or post-divorce custody/support battles. Let’s say you lived Pulaski County when you filed and your divorce was granted in Pulaski County and then you move to Saline County and since you’re the primary parent, your children move to Saline County too. If Dad still lives in Pulaski County, then venue stays in Pulaski, but if Dad has moved to a different county too – lets say Lonoke County, then venue will move to the county where the children reside. In this example, if you didn’t have children but needed to go back to Court on an alimony or property division issue, it would likely stay in Pulaski County anyway, but either party could petition to have it transferred to the county where the party lives – Saline or Lonoke.
What you cannot do it change counties because you don’t like the judge you are assigned. Our system is on a lottery – you are assigned a judge to your case on a blind system. The specific assignment process varies by county, but no matter what county you don’t get to pick your judge. It can hurt your case if you are suspected of venue shopping – it is better to not do that than risk having judge mad at you because he or she thinks you tried it and failed!
You must Live Separately
The third basic requirement for a divorce in Arkansas is you have to be living separate and apart when you file and when the divorce is final.
What does living separate and apart mean, you ask?
Does it mean you can live in the same house? Same bedroom? Same bed?! Yes and no. If the parties consider themselves to be living separate and apart (not as a married couple), then there shouldn’t be an issue. In theory that can be challenged by the party who does not want the divorce, but this is uncommon. We frequently divorce people who are living in the same house for financial reasons or for consistency for the children. What is not allowed under the statute is for you to be sleeping together in the same bed, carrying on as husband and wife – engaging in marital relations, you might call it. This does not meet the requirement of separate and apart – and further, it could be construed as forgiveness of the grounds for divorce!
The Bottom Line
Bottom line: you want a divorce in Arkansas? Then live in Arkansas, don’t move out of Arkansas and don’t be doing that marital relations thing with your soon to be ex and we can go from there!
Call for a Free Case Evaluation
Case evaluations are completely free; our fees are flat and affordable. Call Leigh Law today at (501) 227-ROAR or Email Us to ensure that you are making wise decisions now which will last far beyond the entry of the divorce decree.