Alimony in Arkansas: An Overview
Alimony is money that one spouse pays to the other during a divorce and for some time afterward. In Arkansas, we sometimes hear alimony referred to as “spousal maintenance” or even “spousal support.” If one spouse has a career outside of the home while the other has opted to stay home and focus upon domestic tasks, courts will generally order the higher earner to help the lower earner in maintaining the lifestyle they had while married.
Types of Alimony in Arkansas
A judge in Arkansas may award temporary spousal support, sometimes called “pendente lite,” during the divorce proceedings. They may also award temporary or permanent alimony after the divorce has been finalized. One spouse will generally pay money to the other for an amount of time determined by the courts.
Permanent alimony was once rather common in Arkansas, but is now becoming something of a rarity. Especially for marriages with a shorter duration, Arkansas courts will look at alimony has “rehabilitative”; that is, a short-term arrangement designed to help a spouse find a job or work toward education or training that gets them better employment opportunities. In some instances, a court may award temporary alimony payments as repayment to a spouse who provided support to his or her family while the other spouse attended higher education or training to increase their earning power.
Permanent alimony is generally for spouses with very low employment prospects due to bad health or old age. A couple can also agree between themselves that one spouse will be the recipient of long-term, or permanent, alimony.
In determining one’s eligibility for alimony, a few factors must be taken into consideration. Before any type of alimony is awarded, an Arkansas divorce court must find that one spouse has such a financial need and the other has the ability to pay that spouse. Factors that the court will take into consideration in making this judgement include:
- The current and anticipated earnings, including future earning ability
- The resources, assets, and debts of each spouse, including marital property awards
- The duration of the marriage
Bear in mind that there is no set formula for the calculation of alimony in Arkansas. It should be noted that in the Arkansas Supreme Court guidelines for child support, an award of 20% of the other spouse’s net take-home pay is considered a presumably suitable temporary support amount for a dependent spouse who also happens to be a custodial parent.
There are also other factors that are taken into consideration when calculating this amount, which we will discuss a little further on. A judge has great discretion in deciding how much money will be awarded, if any will be awarded at all. He or she maintains the greatest authority over whether or not alimony is awarded and how much will be awarded. This makes it impossible to make even an estimation.
How Long Does Alimony Last?
The duration of alimony payments is determined by an Arkansas family court judge. In short, there are no set lengths of time for alimony payments. Rather, it is based upon the length of the marriage. One common standard used for considering alimony duration is that one year of alimony will be paid for every three years of marriage. Keep in mind that this is not the case with every state or every judge. And, if the recipient spouse remarries or begins cohabitation with another person, alimony may be discontinued.
Unless otherwise ordered by the court or parties involved, alimony will stop if any of the following happen after the agreement has been declared:
- The remarriage of the spouse who is receiving the alimony payments
- The establishment of a relationship that produces a child or children, resulting in a court order that directs another individual to pay support to the recipient of the alimony funds
- The alimony recipient develops a relationship that makes them provide support to another individual who is not an adopted or birth child of their own
- Either party of the alimony agreement passes away
- If the receiving spouse lives full time with another person in an intimate relationship, this will be considered the same as remarriage, and thus ends the alimony agreement.
Rehabilitative alimony may also be filed depending on a plan for rehabilitation of the recipient spouse’s estate and ability to provide for themselves. A judge must see to it that the plan will be appropriate and will then make the final decision of payment, length of time for such monies, and the situations under which it will stop.
You can petition for alimony by asking for it at the very start of the divorce proceedings in the Petition for Divorce. If you fail to do this, you may ask for it later by asking the court to allow you to make amends to the divorce petition. In the request, you should also make a list of the reasons you qualify for an alimony award.
After a spouse asks for alimony from the court, both spouses will be asked to submit an Affidavit of Financial means. This document will have all the important “stuff” like bank statements, credit cards, expenses incurred each month, recent income evidence, and the like. It is important that the Affidavit of Financial means is complete, accurate, and free of errors or omissions, as these can delay the application process. Be sure your legal team reviews it for you.
Can Alimony Be Changed?
The court can certainly modify an alimony award at any given time. You or your ex-spouse can petition the court for a modification, providing there has been a change in circumstance since the award was granted. The spouse doing the petitioning must serve the petition onto the other spouse. The court will then make a determination after a careful review and see if modification is appropriate. For instance, if alimony payments were based upon your inability to be self-sufficient but you get a job that pays very well, the payor spouse may seek a modification to the original alimony agreement.
Every situation is different, and circumstances can change drastically and suddenly after divorce, so it is only natural spouses wish to seek a modification or even termination of an alimony order or agreement. In many cases, unless there is an agreement stating otherwise, alimony will stop automatically if the supported spouse gets married to somebody else.
How Is Alimony Calculated in Arkansas?
In short, there is no specific way of calculating alimony in the state of Arkansas. It is all done on a case by case basis by an Arkansas family court justice, who is also responsible for the case. The amount of the award, if any is given at all, is left up to the discretion of the judge.
Some factors that go into how alimony is calculated include the following:
- The financial assets possessed by both parties
- The ability to find employment in the future
- Marital lifestyle or standard of living
- Other relevant factors (children, for instance)
Every case is different based upon the above factors, but alimony awards vary due to differences in income and different case by case situations.
Whether or not alimony is awarded at the end of a divorce proceeding is determined by a judge according to what is fair under the circumstances presented. In most cases, alimony is only awarded for longer-term marriages, such as those lasting longer than five years. There can, however, be exceptions to the rule. To qualify for alimony, you must show that you have a need for financial support after the marriage has ended, and that the other spouse has the ability to make such payments.
Alimony and Adultery
In marriage, couples share the cost of basic necessities like food, clothing, and shelter, as well as the upkeep of the transportation and shelter. Once divorced, of course, couples are now single and responsible for costs they incur on their own. This is where alimony comes into play, and Arkansas divorce court judges have a lot of discretion in determining if alimony should be awarded, and for how long.
Many different factors are considered by the judge when he or she goes about making such a decision. Adultery is one of those factors, and we will discuss the role it plays in the awarding of alimony.
Adultery is when a spouse enters into a voluntary sexual relationship that is brief or long-term in nature with an individual who is not their spouse. You may hear this referred to as an “extramarital affair” or “cheating.” Arkansas Code states that adultery is “grounds” or a reason for divorce. This applies to covenant marriages as well as civil marriages.
There are several defenses possible if your spouse wants to end the marriage on adultery grounds. You cannot divorce due to adultery, says the Arkansas Code, if:
- Adultery occurred because the spouses colluded it
- The cheating spouse committed the act because they secretly wanted to get divorced
- The victim of the adultery or innocent spouse actually agreed to this affair
- Both of the spouses committed adultery
So, how does this affect alimony awards in Arkansas? Alimony must be reasonable, meaning that it has to be fair and appropriate when it is weighed against the individual factors and circumstances that surround the case. There is no set list of factors that Arkansas divorce courts will examine to decide what constitutes a fair and balanced alimony award. Judges must decide what makes the most sense and is fair under the circumstances provided. Generally speaking, judges who are attempting to decide whether or not alimony should be awarded and for how long will consider factors such as the following:
- How long the marriage lasted
- Age and health of the parties
- Training, career history, education, and future employment prospects of each spouse
- Assets and liabilities of each spouse after the divorce is final
- If one spouse gave up the chance to pursue a career in lieu of being a stay at home parent
- If one spouse supported the other while they achieved a professional education
In terms of adultery and its relationship to the final alimony award, Arkansas courts have determined that extramarital affairs may or may not be something that contributes to the ability to pay. In one case, two spouses exchanged accusations of adultery. The AR Supreme Court found that evidence of adultery posed no relevance to the case, as it did not reflect the receiving spouse’s need for alimony or the payor’s ability to provide the funds.
Adultery can be considered when deciding whether or not to award alimony in Arkansas. It may also be used to help decide how much alimony shall be awarded and for how long it shall be paid. The only limit is that the adultery must relate in a meaningful way to the recipient’s need for support or the payor’s ability to pay it.
Alimony and Taxes
Any spouse that is party in a divorce after December 31, 2018 should know about the new tax laws surrounding alimony and how it is taxed. The spouse who will be receiving the alimony no longer must pay taxes on the payments that he or she receives. That spouse will no longer have to pay taxes on their alimony, and does not have the hassle of claiming it as a source of income on their taxes. The payor spouse may fight for lower alimony payments due in part to fact that they will no longer have the ability to file it as part of their taxes, thereby eliminating the tax savings.
Divorce is a difficult matter all on its own, and the inclusion of alimony in some cases makes it even more complicated. Reviewing your situation with your expert legal team is the best way to go in making sure your case is handled fairly and works in both parties’ favor. Be sure that you contact your attorney with any questions or concerns you may have.