Alimony awards in Arkansas still largely at discretion of judges

On behalf of Vickie Cochran

Spousal support still looks fairly traditional in the Natural State.

Alimony - the payment of financial support from one ex-spouse to the other pursuant to a court order in divorce - in Arkansas remains largely traditional in that crafting the terms of the award is mostly left to the discretion of the state court judge deciding contested issues in the divorce. While a movement for alimony reform has taken root in some other states, so far, Arkansas has only made a couple of adjustments to its alimony law in that direction.

Specifically, some reformists want to see judicial discretion decreased by enacting more guidelines and limitations on how alimony awards can be crafted. In addition, some disfavor lifetime alimony orders, especially those that continue after payers' retirements, and, in light of female advancement in the workplace, some in the reform movement promote alimony laws that favor both parties taking responsibility for becoming financially independent after divorce.

Arkansas alimony reform: rehabilitative alimony

In this context, Arkansas legislators enacted an amendment to the alimony statute in 2013 that established the option of rehabilitative alimony to be paid in fixed amounts for a specific period of time. Rehabilitative alimony would allow an economically dependent spouse who may have been out of the work force or underemployed during the marriage to have the temporary financial support needed while seeking education or training, for example, that could lead to financial independence through employment.

In considering a rehabilitative alimony request, the court can order or the payer can request that the recipient provide his or her rehabilitation plan to help the judge determine if the rehabilitative plan is realistic and what an appropriate award size and duration would be. After the divorce, if the receiving spouse does not adhere to the plan, the payer may ask the court to determine if the rehabilitative alimony should continue, be modified or terminated.

Before the statute was amended to add rehabilitative alimony, it was sometimes ordered by Arkansas courts in appropriate circumstances as part of the broad judicial discretion in alimony consideration, but the amended statute formalizes the process.

Arkansas alimony standards

Of course, divorcing spouses can negotiate alimony terms by agreement, usually as part of an overall divorce settlement, but if they do not, it becomes a contested issue in the divorce that must be decided by the judge. While the alimony statute provides that the judge has broad discretion to craft a reasonable award considering the family circumstances, Arkansas courts have developed rich and detailed standards for what is reasonable.

Specifically, case law establishes that the purpose of alimony is to equalize the disparities in economic wealth and standard of living between divorcing parties by first considering the financial need of the less well off spouse in light of the other's ability to pay. Other factors the court has considered relevant to the alimony question include:

  • Joint and individual assets and property and the property division in the divorce
  • Each party's net income
  • Earning potentials
  • Level of education
  • Length of the marriage
  • Each party's health
  • And others

Arkansas alimony law is complex and evolving; it behooves anyone facing an Arkansas divorce to consult with an experienced family lawyer for advice and representation. Legal counsel will assess the circumstances of the spouses and advocate for a fair resolution of the alimony issue.

From her office in Little Rock, Vickie Lynn Cochran, Attorney at Law, advocates for clients statewide as well as for those from other states facing Arkansas divorce issues in matters such as alimony and in many other related family law issues.