What to Expect When You’re Expecting…A Divorce

Mallory Langston is a 3rd year law student at the University of Arkansas School of Law.

Mallory Langston is a Third-Year student at the University of Arkansas School of Law.

When your spouse files for divorce, you become the defendant in the case.  Your spouse is the plaintiff.

Divorce in Arkansas
Arkansas is a “for cause” divorce jurisdiction.  This means that the person seeking the divorce must prove that his or her spouse has done something that justifies the split.  Habitual drunkenness, felony conviction, impotence, adultery, and certain acts of violence are among the statutory “grounds” for divorce in Arkansas.  Most often, the filing spouse will assert that he or she has been subjected to “general indignities.”  The grounds for divorce must be proven in court, and a witness must corroborate the filing spouse’s assertions.

Despite Arkansas’s cause requirement, a divorce may also be granted if the couple has been living separate and apart for 18 months, in the absence of other grounds for divorce.

There is a residency requirement for an Arkansas divorce.  Either the plaintiff or the defendant must have lived in Arkansas for at least sixty days prior to filing for the divorce.  The action must be filed in the county of residence of either the plaintiff or defendant.

What are “general indignities”?
When a spouse asserts general indignities, he or she is saying that the other spouse has repeatedly subjected him to treatment that “renders his condition intolerable.”  This could include: rudeness, vulgarity, unmerited reproach, haughtiness, contempt, contumeliousness, studied neglect, intentional incivility, injury, manifest disdain, abusive language, malignant ridicule and every other plain manifestation of settled hate, alienation, and estrangement.

“Getting Served”
Once your spouse files for divorce, you will be served with the “Complaint for Divorce” and the “Summons.”  Do not try to avoid being served with these documents.  Doing so may result in you missing out on the determination of important pre-trial matters.  You also risk missing your deadline to respond to the complaint, which would result in a default judgment for your spouse.

What now?
If you haven’t already done so, you should consult with an attorney to discuss your next steps.  Keep in mind that your spouse’s attorney is not your attorney.  Your attorney will work with you to file an Answer to the complaint.  In most cases, the defendant spouse will file a “Counterclaim for Divorce.”  If, at the end of the day, you also want the divorce, filing a counterclaim is a good idea.  This keeps the process moving along in the event that the filing spouse has a change of heart or simply drags his or her feet.  In Arkansas, your divorce can be granted in as little as 30 days from the date of filing.

If you don’t want to get a divorce, you can fight it.  Remember, though, after 18 months of continuous separation, your spouse will be entitled to divorce without proving fault on your part.  You and your attorney can discuss the pros and cons of fighting the divorce.

Most importantly, be aware that court deadlines are not flexible.  Even if you’re planning to be late to your own funeral, now is not the time to procrastinate.

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