Covenant Marriage in Arkansas: For Better or for Worse

praying-hands-clip-art-PrayingHands1Covenant marriage is legal in three states: Arizona, Arkansas and Louisiana. In essence, it really does two things: makes it harder to get married and makes it harder to get divorced.

First, before you can enter into a covenant marriage, you have submit to authorized marital counseling by a therapist or preacher or similar person, and you have to sign a declaration that says this:

We do solemnly declare that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman who agree to live together as husband and wife for so long as they both may live. We have chosen each other carefully and disclosed to one another everything which could adversely affect the decision to enter into this marriage. We have received authorized counseling on the nature, purposes, and responsibilities of marriage. We have read the Covenant Marriage Act of 2001, and we understand that a covenant marriage is for life. If we experience marital difficulties, we commit ourselves to take all reasonable efforts to preserve our marriage, including marital counseling.

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What is a Legal Separation? In Arkansas, “Separate Maintenance”

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Sometimes when clients come in to see me, they aren’t 100% sure they want a divorce. Maybe something has happened that lessened their faith in their spouse, but they aren’t sure they want to throw in the towel completely. So they ask: What about a Legal Separation?

In Arkansas, legal separation is actually called Separate Maintenance. The spouse filing for separate maintenance has to prove three primary things: 1) that they are an “innocent” spouse, 2) that they are without sufficient means to provide for themselves or their children, and 3) that the other spouse does have sufficient means with which to provide for them.

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Drug Testing in Divorce & Custody Cases

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If you’re reading this post, it’s probably because you have a child with someone who has a drug problem. Maybe you haven’t divorced them yet, or maybe you divorced them and are sharing custody and visitation rights. Either way, it’s not an easy situation.

But I want to share with you a couple of points of law that may help. There are two important Arkansas statutes that can help folks in your situation. The first is Arkansas Code § 9-13-109, which states, “In a proceeding concerning child custody, child visitation, or the welfare of a child, the court may order drug testing of a party.” Furthermore, “[t]he court may assess the cost of drug testing to a party or parties.”

What does this mean for you? It means that if you are involved in any case involving a child, you can ask the court to order drug tests of the relevant parties. This may include the parent, their spouse or a grandparent or other relative that lives in the home. Often, the court will have the party that is asking for the drug test (you) pay for the cost upfront. But if the party being tested fails the drug test, then they will be ordered to reimburse you.

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Alimony in Arkansas

funny-puns-one-liner-jokesIf you’re contemplating divorce, alimony might be on your list of things to find out about. A lot of people come into my office wondering if they are entitled to it, if they’ll have to pay for it, and how long it lasts.

In Arkansas, the primary factor in deciding whether to award alimony is one spouse’s need for support and the other spouse’s ability to pay. The purpose is to balance out the income and standard of living between the parties. There are 12 secondary factors as well, which could influence your case. Those factors are:

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Temporary Hearings in Divorce Cases

Tkeep-calm-it-s-only-temporaryemporary hearings are an important part of the divorce process. Not every divorce requires a temporary hearing. But if there are big issues that need to be decided quickly, like possession of the marital home or custody and visitation of the kids, you have the right to ask for a temporary hearing. The judge will issue a Temporary Order that will be in place during the divorce process.

Each judge handles temporary hearings differently. Some judges only allow the parties to testify. Others only give you a certain amount of time, as little as 20 minutes per side. Still other judges allow you to call whomever you want and to take as long as you please.

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Emancipation (From Your Parents)

Teenager-MoneyOf course the first thing that comes to mind is the emancipation proclamation. That is not what we’re talking about. However, just as slaves were emancipated from slavery, so too can a minor be emancipated from their minority (and/or their parents). Here’s how.

Emancipation is the process by which a child’s “disability” of being minor is removed. This allows the minor to enter into contracts and conduct other business as if they were an adult. They will be able to get their own medical care, sign their own school forms, sign rental contracts, receive their own disability checks, sign up for benefits programs, and more.

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You’ve Been Served!

255058wSo, you’ve been served with a lawsuit. Now what?

The first thing I will tell you is what NOT to do. Do not wait. Do not stick it in with the rest of your mail and forget about it. Do not wait to go talk to a lawyer.

The second thing is to READ the summons. There is some important information in there. A typical summons will tell you that you have 30 days to respond to the lawsuit or you will risk default. If you default, a judgment can be entered without you. And it is near impossible to undo.

The summons will also include what court the lawsuit is in, who the lawyer on the other side is, and where the clerk’s office is to file a response.

Occasionally, a summons will provide for a shorter time period. For example, if you are served with an unlawful detainer lawsuit, you will only have five days to respond, or you will be evicted.

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Grandparent Visitation in Arkansas

GrandparentsClubYes, grandparent visitation is a thing. If you are a grandparent and your grandkids are being withheld from you, then you may have a legal avenue to enforce your right to see your grandkids and have a relationship with them. However, there are some complicated requirements to get there.

First, in order to petition for grandparent visitation, you have to be a grandparent or great-grandparent to the child, and the relationship of the child’s parents has to have been severed by death, divorce or separation.

Second, if the custodial parent is withholding visitation from you, then the law presumes that what they are doing is in the child’s best interests. It is up you, the grandparent, to overcome that presumption.

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Relocation & Custody in Arkansas

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If you’re reading this post, you’re likely asking 1 of 2 questions:

1: Can I move? 

2: Can my ex-spouse move?

In custody cases, moving away from the other parent has a serious impact on the family dynamic. But in the age we live in, it’s important for people to have the freedom and flexibility to follow opportunities that may come their way. The Court has tried to balance these two competing interests. However, I would say that it has given slightly more weight to the second consideration.

Allow me to explain. The law in Arkansas says that a custodial parent’s decision to relocate is presumed to be in the best interests of the child. It will be up to the non-custodial parent to show otherwise. There are 5 considerations that the Court will look at:

  • (1) the reason for relocation;
  • (2) the educational, health, and leisure opportunities available in the new location;
  • (3) the visitation and communication schedule for the noncustodial parent;
  • (4) the effect of the move on the child’s extended family relationships; and
  • (5) the preference of the child, including the age, maturity, and the reasons given by the child as to his or her preference.

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Child Custody Jurisdiction: UCCJEA & Why It Matters To You

When a potential client calls my office with a child custody question, the first thing I need to know is where the child lives and how long the child has lived there. Why does this matter? It matters because there is a law called the UCCJEA and it governs what court can hear a particular custody case.

UCCJEA stands for the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. It is the law in every state in the United States (except Massachusetts, where it is still pending in the legislature). Before the UCCJEA was adopted, any state where a child was physically present could make a custody determination. This resulted in parents abducting children and traveling to other states in order to “forum shop”to get a favorable custody determination.

The UCCJEA says that a child’s “home state” has priority to decide custody of that child. A home state is defined as “state in which a child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child-custody proceeding.” Temporary absences from the state don’t count. And if the child is an infant less than six months old, then the period from birth to present is what counts.

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