Arkansas divorce: Alimony basics

In Arkansas, alimony awards may be temporary, rehabilitative or permanent.

In 2018, Arkansas had the highest divorce rate of any state in the country at 13%, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, according to Talk Business & Politics. Our high rate may go even higher in this time of economic insecurity, and alimony can be a crucially important issue in a divorce. The payment of spousal support by one ex-spouse to the other can make a concrete difference in each of their standards of living after marriage.

Temporary alimony

When a spouse files for divorce, they may ask the state court to grant an award of temporary alimony to get them through the proceedings. The judge has discretionary authority to decide whether to grant it – it is not mandatory.

Settle the issue or go to trial

There are two ways to resolve alimony: through a settlement agreement or a judge’s order. The spouses may privately negotiate a marital settlement agreement in which they resolve the terms of a spousal support award.

If they cannot come to an agreement on alimony, the judge, who has wide discretion in the matter, will have to determine whether to award it. Arkansas courts have said that alimony is a way to balance economic disparity reflected in the parties’ comparative earning capacities and standards of living, considering their respective abilities to pay and financial needs.

Specifically, the judge should look at:

  • Each parties’ financial situation
  • Each parties’ current and future income, including the amount and type of income
  • Each parties’ assets and resources
  • Each parties’ earning capacity

Rehabilitative or permanent spousal support

Alimony awards may be either rehabilitative or permanent. Alimony for the purpose of rehabilitation may require the recipient to present a feasible vocational plan to the court designed to prepare the person to enter or return to the workforce. The plan might include training or education designed to realistically prepare for supportive employment.

An award of permanent alimony, Arkansas courts remind us, is not meant as a way for the recipient to choose not to work. Rather, permanent alimony is most common in long-term marriages in which the recipient left the workforce to care for children or for the home.

Changes in alimony awards

After divorce, either party may ask the court to review or modify the alimony award if there has been a “significant and material change of circumstances.”

Arkansas statute requires that alimony automatically ends if any of these occur:

  • The recipient remarries.
  • The recipient has a new relationship “equivalent of remarriage” in which the couple has a child where the alimony recipient gets support from someone else.
  • The recipient has this type of relationship with a child where the alimony recipient must pay support to a third party who is not a child of the original alimony payor.
  • The recipient lives with someone else in an “intimate, cohabitating relationship.”
  • Either party dies.
  • A condition in the original alimony order that will trigger the end of the award occurs.

An attorney can advise a divorcing spouse about the likelihood of an alimony award as well as its potential size and duration. With this information, the client can work with the lawyer to decide whether it makes sense to try to negotiate an alimony award, whether the person would pay or receive the support.

Family lawyer Victor D. “Trey” Wright III of The Wright Law Firm in Little Rock advises clients across the state about alimony issues as well as other matters in divorce and family law.

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