How to File For Divorce in Arkansas
The contractual nature of marriages in Arkansas makes it subject to dissolution upon request from either party. Such filings are based on statutory grounds, and officials of the state judiciary preside over the litigation process. A successful divorce frees couples from the bonds and obligations of matrimony. At 13.0 divorces per 1000 women in 2018, the divorce rate in Arkansas is almost double the national divorce rate of 7.7 per 1000. Depending on the individuals’ residence status and other statutory requirements, it takes from six (6) months and up to two (2) years to get a divorce in Arkansas. Generally, lengthy divorces are due to complex issues that require judicial intervention.
Do I need a Reason for Divorce in Arkansas?
It depends. Arkansas is a no-fault divorce state, but litigants filing on this ground must have lived apart for at least eighteen (18) months before filing for divorce. There is no explicit statutory provision for incompatibility as a ground for divorce (A. C. A. § 9–12–301).. Otherwise, couples in Arkansas can only file for divorce on six (6) other statutory grounds. These include impotence, the conviction of a felony, adultery, habitual battery, and substance abuse problem. If the fault ground is uncontested, intending divorcees need not provide corroborating evidence. Otherwise, the parties must provide corroboration that is subject to legal scrutiny (A. C. A. § 9–12–306)..
Why do I need a Divorce Lawyer?
Suffice to say that divorce is a stressful process even with information from the self-help section of the court website. Hiring a divorce has several advantages. First, an attorney provides expert advice based on his/her experience with state laws. Often time, state laws are equivocal about asset and liability division and spouse entitlements after the divorce. A lawyer understands these nuances and best represents the interests of the client. Juggling divorce with professional or educational obligations can make the process stressful for self-represented clients. It is common for litigants to make mistakes due to the stress of multitasking. More importantly, the lawyer is responsible for preparing a clear and binding agreement, devoid of loophole for the other party to exploit after the divorce. If the other party has an attorney, a rule of thumb is to hire one or consult an attorney if one cannot afford the fees. Do not act on experiential advice from people who have gone through a divorce, as no two divorces are the same.
How do I Get Started in a Divorce in Arkansas?
The residency requirement for filing a divorce in Arkansas stipulates that either party must be a resident of a county in Arkansas for at least sixty days (A. C. A. § 9–12–303; A. C. A. § 9–12–307).. The party must provide proof of residency, without which the judge does not have the statutory authority to issue a divorce decree. Furthermore, for fault-based divorces, the plaintiff must prove that the event occurred at most five years before the filing.
There are five steps to filing a divorce in Arkansas viz:
- File the paperwork: The plaintiff must visit the office of the clerk of courts and complete the required paperwork for divorce. Then, he/she must pay the filing fees and submit the original copies of documents along with the required extra copies. A rule of thumb is to keep one copy of each filing for reference.
- Serve the documents: The next step is to serve the defendant with copies of the filings through a third-party process server, the sheriff, via regular mail or an unconcerned party. Upon receipt of the filings, the defendant must enter a response within 30 days. Otherwise, he/she implicitly waives the right to respond, and the case will proceed. Note that the court requires the plaintiff to do all due diligence in ensuring that the defendant receives the divorce filings. The defendant must make a publication in a newspaper if all attempts to serve the defendant fails. The server must provide the defendant with proof of service, or the plaintiff must submit an affidavit of service.
- Complete discovery: All intending divorcees must participate in the discovery where parties share information regarding all financial assets and liabilities. The plaintiff must also complete a financial disclosure form in the filing stage.
- Go to mediation: A couple contesting the grounds of divorce or disputing asset division, child custody, support, and alimony must go to mediation. The case will proceed to court after this phase.
- Meet in court: After completing the above steps, the court will review the filings and grant a decree of absolute divorce. There is a minimum waiting period of thirty days between filing and issuing the divorce decree. Meanwhile, parties involved in a contested divorce must schedule a hearing date where the judge will hear arguments and adjudicate the disputed matters.
How to File for Divorce in Arkansas without a Lawyer
Intending divorcees going pro se also have to follow the above steps to file a divorce in Arkansas. The Arkansas judiciary provides self-help resources for self-represented litigants. On the page, the litigants will find the necessary forms and information on how to use the law library for personal research. Note that the required divorce forms depend on the nature of the divorce and vary from county to county. Consult the clerk of courts for a list of the applicable divorce forms. Also, note that court administrative staff cannot proffer legal advice; they can only provide official guidelines.
How Does Arkansas Divorce Mediation Work?
The Arkansas judiciary provides an effective option for resolving disputes through mediation. Unlike when a judge presides over the case, mediation is more flexible and allows both parties to have more control over the outcome of the settlement agreement. In this program, the parties involved meeting together with the mediator to find solutions that are acceptable to both sides. Mediators are neutral and impartial; he or she does not favor or proffer any solution. Instead, the parties make every decision and resolve the dispute by working together under the guidance of the mediator. However, the mediation agreement is not legally binding on both parties before the judge issues a verdict. This informal process is the last opportunity for intending divorcees to have control over the terms of their divorce. Consult the directory of certified mediators to find a mediator in Arkansas.
How Long after Mediation is Divorce Final in Arkansas?
It depends. A successful mediation is often over in a few sessions or days. Conversely, complex divorces may require extensive mediation over several sessions. In this case, the program may take several weeks. Even when mediation progresses very quickly, there is still a mandatory waiting period of thirty days before the court can issue a divorce decree.
Are Divorce Records Public in Arkansas?
Yes, divorce records are public documents under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Nevertheless, divorce records are also subject to privacy laws restricting public access to sensitive and confidential information such as information on minors, social security numbers, and financial information. The court may also seal certain documents upon request from the divorcees. In this case, only authorized entities can access sealed documents in a divorce record. An interested member of the public must obtain a court order that grants access to inspect the documents of interest. Regardless, the record custodian will redact sensitive, confidential, or potentially injurious information before providing access to the requester.
Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching for records simpler, as geographic locations do not limit their activities. Thus, the search engines on third-party sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:
- The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
- The location or assumed location of the record or persons involved in the case. These include information such as the city, county, or state of residence or accusation.
Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not government-sponsored. Consequently, record availability on third-party sites may vary.
How do I Get Arkansas Divorce Records?
- In-person and mail requests:
The circuit court that adjudicated the case and issued the divorce decree is the place to start. All in-person requests must be during business hours. Mail requests are subject to similar request protocols, only that the written request must come in a self-addressed stamped envelope, with payment and a government-issued photo I. D. enclosed. Use the court directory to find the address and contact information of circuit court clerks in Arkansas.
At the court, requests for divorce records go to the clerk of courts, who is the designated record custodian. If the record is available for public perusal, administrative staff will require the necessary details to perform a record search. These include the name of the parties, date of filing or adjudication, and case number. Providing the name of the attorneys or the presiding judge helps to narrow down the search.
- Online search:
The online availability of divorce records vary from county to county but the CourtConnect website is a central repository for all court records in the state. The database is free to use and the individual must query the database with relevant parameters.
Also, know that for in-person and mail requests, the record custodian charges fees to search and reproduce the divorce record. Additional fees apply to requests for certified copies of divorce records. Fees also vary from county to county and are payable via check, money order, or credit card. Eligible parties can also order divorce certificates from the Arkansas Department of Public Health for a fee.