Arkansas legislature considering two alimony bills

A bill pending in the Arkansas legislature would create more limits on the amount and duration of alimony awards in the state.

In March 2015, two bills were introduced in the Arkansas legislature that would amend existing alimony laws. One would eliminate the possibility that a divorced spouse would have to pay spousal support to an ex-spouse who has committed domestic violence against the payer.

Part of alimony reform

The second bill would make changes similar to those recently made to alimony laws in some other states across the country as part of an alimony reform movement that promotes the restriction of permanent alimony as well as concrete limitations on the amount and duration of spousal maintenance awards.

Arkansas alimony basics

Alimony is the obligation of one ex-spouse to the other to pay support, usually monthly, to the other. Arkansas cases say that its purpose is to balance the earning power and living standards of each spouse after divorce.

During the pendency of an Arkansas divorce case, alimony can be temporarily ordered. Sometimes the parties are able to negotiate the terms of a permanent alimony agreement, but if they cannot agree, the matter will be decided by the state court judge assigned to the dissolution of marriage case.

Arkansas law allows the judge to order either rehabilitative alimony or permanent alimony. Rehabilitative alimony is of limited duration to allow the recipient spouse time to become self-sufficient. To assist the judge in crafting the award, the paying spouse or the court may ask the recipient for a rehabilitation plan. (If the plan is not fulfilled, the paying spouse may ask the court to review the order.)

Arkansas statute requires that an alimony order be reasonable considering the "circumstances of the parties and the nature of the case." Arkansas cases say that the most important factors for the judge's consideration are the ability or one spouse to pay and the need of the other for the support. Other important factors include the marital standard of living, the disposition of property in the divorce, the length of the marriage, the health of each party, each spouse's income and assets, and more.

Arkansas judges have wide discretion in setting alimony awards and may only be reversed on appeal for abusing their discretion.

Currently, alimony orders end when:

  • The recipient remarries.
  • The recipient enters into marriage-like relationship that produces a child and involves new support orders.
  • The recipient cohabits in an intimate relationship.
  • Either party dies.
  • Another event happens that the alimony order deems reason to terminate.
  • The court orders it upon petition of either party based on "significant and material change of circumstances."

Legislative proposals

If the second proposed bill becomes law, these would be the major changes to current Arkansas alimony law:

  • Alimony awards would be capped at 20 percent of the payor's net income if the marital property in the divorce was divided 50-50; and at 10 percent when the payor retires and is at least 62.
  • Alimony orders could only last three years maximum, at which point the recipient would have to petition the court within six month for an extension.
  • If an alimony request were based on an inability to work based on disability, the testimony of a medical professional who is a rehabilitation expert would be required.

Many will watch these bills in the statehouse with interest, as the results will impact many divorcing people. In the meantime, anyone in Arkansas facing divorce or an issue related to alimony should seek experienced legal counsel for guidance and representation.

In Little Rock, family law attorney Trey Wright of The Wright Law Firm represents clients in alimony, divorce and other family matters.

Keywords: bill, Arkansas, alimony, legislature, law, spouse, spousal support, divorce, reform, marriage, rehabilitative, permanent, duration, judge, plan, statute, reasonable, circumstances, cap