Arkansas alimony basics

Arkansas law gives judges relatively wide discretion over alimony awards.

The Arkansas alimony statute gives broad discretion to judges in divorce proceedings to determine whether to grant alimony and craft the amount and duration of the award. Arkansas courts regularly interpret the statute, enhancing it with common law - meaning judge-made law - regarding alimony.

First, it is important to note that divorcing spouses may negotiate a settlement agreement in which they decide whether one party will pay alimony to the other and the details of the arrangement. Should they not settle this issue, then the judge in the divorce must do so.

Arkansas allows permanent or rehabilitative alimony

The statute provides for permanent or rehabilitative alimony in Arkansas divorces. "Permanent" does not necessarily mean it continues indefinitely - although it can. It is an order after the divorce for alimony to meet the economic needs of the recipient if the payor has the means to pay. The statute says a judge may order alimony if it is "reasonable under the circumstances of the parties and the nature of the case."

Court cases define rehabilitative alimony as alimony payable for a finite time that stops when the recipient's reasonable efforts have allowed self-support. The potential recipient must provide a rehabilitation plan (such as for school attendance or vocational training) if the other spouse requests one or the court orders it. The plan will help the judge decide if the plan is feasible and what the alimony award should look like.

The Arkansas Supreme Court has clarified that a rehabilitation plan is not mandatory unless the payor requests it or the court orders it.

Should the recipient not follow through with the rehabilitative plan, the payor can ask the court to review it and decide if the alimony should continue or be modified. If there is a "significant and material change of circumstances," the payor may ask the court for a similar review at any time.

What factors does the court consider?

Arkansas courts have historically said that alimony is an attempt to equalize the economic inequities between the parties as evidenced by both standard of living and earning capacity. Most importantly, the court considers the payor's ability to pay and the needs of the other ex-spouse. Courts have also listed several other "secondary" factors, including the marital standard of living, both parties' health, length of marriage, their financial situations, current income of each and future income, and more.

The Arkansas Supreme Court held in 2016 that judges must weigh these factors in both permanent and rehabilitative alimony decision-making.

When does alimony end?

The court's divorce decree or the settlement agreement may provide a date when alimony will end. Otherwise, it ends on the earliest of any of these developments:

  • Remarriage of the recipient
  • The recipient enters into a marriage-like relationship that produces a child and child support is granted to the recipient
  • The recipient begins a marriage-like relationship that produces a child and the recipient is ordered to pay support
  • The recipient lives with someone in an "intimate, cohabitating relationship"
  • Death of either ex-spouse
  • The occurrence of any event set out in the alimony order

This is only an introduction to Arkansas alimony law, which can be complex and dependent on the circumstances of each case. A family lawyer can answer questions about alimony and related financial and property issues in divorce.

The lawyers at Hatfield Harris, PLLC, with offices in Rogers, Arkansas, represent clients in divorce throughout Northwest Arkansas.