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Family Law

Family Law

Divorce, Custody and Support are by far the most searched legal issues in this area. The reason why is simple. It is a relatively limited cross section of the community that are arrested or cited for a criminal violation. Fewer still are injured by another person, be it negligently, recklessly or intentionally. The other varieties of law beyond those two examples are frequented more often by businesses. However, roughly half of Americans will experience a divorce at some point in their life. Arkansas is certainly no exception to this, having the second highest divorce rate in the country. No other type of law can lay claim to such a dubious honor.

Family law is also one of the most difficult areas of law in which to practice. This may come as a surprise to many, but it is undoubtedly true. That is not to say that it is any more complicated in terms of the law to be applied than any other type of law. Instead, the difficulty lies in the fact-intensive and emotional nature of the cases.

The reason Family Law is so fact intensive can be described in two ways. The first, excessively simple manner of explaining why is that the Arkansas Supreme Court has said as much repeatedly. It is relatively rare that the Appellate or Supreme Courts will disrupt the ruling of a Circuit Judge on Family Law matters. Indeed, one of the few times that a Circuit ruling will be reversed is when the Judge explicitly did not consider the facts of the case when they were provided. That last bit is why presenting the facts in a case in a coherent and complete matter is so vital to the Family Law practitioner. If a fact was not presented, then a ruling cannot be made on it. For example, one cannot expect a favorable ruling on child custody when no facts are presented relating to the best interests of the child. Similarly, a retirement account that was never presented to the Court cannot be divided equally. It is not, after all, the Judge’s job to independently investigate every Family Law case outside of the confines of what is presented to him or her.

With that preface out of the way, I would like to take a moment to explain the legal and factual issues involved in the major fields of Family Law practice, and how my firm can help you navigate the system and get the best outcome possible in a given situation.


Divorce is frequently the point at which all other Family Law issues begin. If done correctly, a divorce can solidify parental rights, support, and the distribution of property from the outset, minimizing the risk of continuing and costly post-decree litigation. If done incorrectly, it is merely the beginning of a long line of financial and emotional troubles that reverberate far beyond the end of the relationship, both in Court and in one’s personal life. Do not leave your future up in the air. Selecting the right law firm can make for a more stable and ultimately better life.

First, a little background on the requirements to get a divorce here in Arkansas. First, you or your spouse have to have been a resident (defined as being physically present in the state) continuously for sixty (60) days prior to the filing of your divorce, and for thirty (30) days after. Note that the thirty days after part has not continuity requirement, meaning that the thirty days can be either continuous or in pieces prior to obtaining a decree. In any event, you cannot get a decree of divorce until thirty (30) days have elapsed from the date of filing.

After filing your complaint, one of three things will happen. If you have an uncontested divorce, meaning that all aspects of your divorce have been agreed upon by you and your spouse prior to filing your complaint, then both parties will sign the decree and your divorce will be final on the next available court date after the thirty days have elapsed. If it is contested, then your spouse will be served with the complaint, and will then have thirty days to answer it. If he or she does answer, then a final will be set and the discovery process begins. If he or she does not, then a default hearing can be set and you may request whatever within reason you need. A quick wrinkle is if your defaulted spouse comes to the hearing, in which case he or she would be entitled to have property distribution considered.

Further, if your spouse does answer, then a temporary hearing may be necessary to determine custody and support while the divorce is pending. These hearings are generally limited in length, and tend to favor the status quo in terms of custody. It is therefore vital for your attorney to formulate a concise yet thorough presentation of the facts to present at court if you wish to change any aspect of your situation prior to the final hearing.

By the time of the final, discovery, to the extent necessary, should have been completed. That, along with independent investigation, should leave very few surprises by that time. While there are never any guarantees, it should be clear enough what the respective parties will get in terms of property. The basic rule is that a completely equal division of property acquired during the marriage will be had, absent some factor that makes such a division inequitable. As one can imagine, it is rare to have an inequitable distribution of marital property and therefore the property division is ultimately won during the discovery process.

Custody is another matter entirely, one often hard-fought. Support is more straightforward, but is ultimately dependent upon the custody of the minor child. The sections below will cover custody and support, both as it relates to the divorce process and as they exist as separate cases in post-divorce or post-paternity proceedings.


Very few people never want to see their kids again. Custody issues arise when a couple either gets a divorce or has a child outside of marriage. This is a sensitive matter that should be dealt with very seriously. As a result, retaining counsel is the best means of protecting your rights.

There are a variety of options for custody. The general custody agreement varies from county to county, but frequently includes what most would consider the “typical” custody arrangement. That is every other weekend, and several weeks in the summer. Holidays generally rotate between the parties. However, the parents are free to agree to anything, with the best interests of the child always at the forefront. This can include such custody arrangements as having the parents alternating weeks for visitation. These arrangements are not favored by the courts, but can be agreed upon if needed.

Where custody can become complicated is when one party is unfit to have any visitation. This can occur in cases where there is some form of abuse, drug use, or other feature that may place the child’s life or the interests of the other parent in danger. Even if there is already a custody agreement in place, it can be modified in these situations. Indeed, a custody agreement can always be modified, though in these situations, it becomes far more urgent. In these cases, you are attempting to protect both you and your child’s interests. It is always best practice to seek counsel. Give me a call as soon as possible, but call the police first if your child is in immediate danger.

A Special Note About Foreign Divorces

Arkansas is a multicultural state. With that comes people from different countries, who were married under different laws or customs, and who may have different expectations, good or bad, from the justice system. Our firm has experience in handling such cases, and the unique issues of law and fact that come with them.

In Arkansas, anyone who is physically present in the state for a period of sixty (60) continuous days before filing a divorce and thirty (30) days (does not have to be continuous) after can get a divorce. One’s legal status is irrelevant. Such divorces work the same as any other divorce, and cause little problem regardless of where the marriage occurred.

Issues can arise when the spouse from whom one is trying to get a divorce resides overseas. In those cases, service, the delivery of the complaint to the Defendant, can become a major issue. The solution is found in the Convention of 15 November 1965 on the Service Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters, or the Hague Convention for short. Most countries are signatories, and using this is effective in my experience. In much of the rest of the world, process servers and service by mail are also acceptable.

A second issue relates to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, or the UCCJEA. This model law has been adopted in all states and it, combined with the Parental Kidnapping and Prevention Act, govern jurisdiction for child custody. The rules are too complex to get into here, but the basic rule is that the home state for child custody purposes is the state (or country) in which the child has lived for the last six consecutive months, or the last place that fits that criteria the child has lived in in the past six months. It gets much more complicated if no jurisdiction falls under that rule.

The final issue occurs when you were married in a foreign country that has different requirements for a marriage or, worse, retains jurisdiction by default. While Arkansas has jurisdiction to effectuate a divorce regardless of the location of the marriage, such situations can cause problems at the marriage’s host country. This is particularly true, for example, in India, which has rules regarding the applicability of foreign divorces. However, if there is an answer to your situation, I will work to find it through attorneys in your country of origin.

If you need a foreign divorce, or a divorce that involves out-of-state children, give us a call. Initial consultations are free.

A Special Note About Joint Custody as of 2013

Joint custody arrangements can only occur when the parties can get along well enough to allow it to work. This is often not possible in divorces. However, SB901, which was passed by the Senate and House and sent to the Governor for signature, may change that in the near future, at least where divorce is concerned.

To sum up the changes, if this bill goes into effect joint custody, both physical and legal, will be favored in Arkansas. Our firm makes no representations as to whether this is a good or bad thing. Instead, we wish to educate the public on the implications therein.

First, it is our interpretation that this does not make joint custody the sole method of awarding custody in Arkansas. It remains to be seen if by “favored” the legislators mean favored over all other forms of custody or simply favored equally with other forms of custody. In other words, it is a matter of whether they are elevating joint custody out of its former status as an unfavored solution, or if they are raising it above sole custody. Given the wording of the statute, it is my interpretation that it will be the go-to solution unless a party can prove it is not in the best interest of the child.

The statute also goes on to make statutory law a rule that has existed already in Arkansas case law: that a parent that is disruptive of a joint custody arrangement will have that held against them when considering a change to sole or primary custody. I assume this was done because joint custody will become far more common, and thus the legislature wanted to enshrine current case law before the Courts had an opportunity to change it.

The upshot of all of this is that joint custody is becoming far more favorable in Arkansas. If you are considering a divorce, please give our office a call. We will stay on top of any pending changes, and ensure that your rights are protected.

Child Support

If you do not have primary visitation as a parent, either after divorce or due to having a child outside of marriage, then you are likely liable for child support. It is only a matter of time before the Office of Child Support Enforcement comes looking for that check. When this occurs, it can be a traumatizing event, especially for putative fathers that did not even know that they had a child. It is times like these that you need an attorney that knows the law, and will fight for your interests.

With that said, child support is an important thing in modern society. Children put a great deal of financial burden on the parent with primary custody, of that there is no doubt. A child deserves the same life as they would have had if their parents were happily married. They should not suffer because a relationship broke down. There is no way out of that truth aside from having either primary or joint visitation (where the child stays with both parents equally). It is an interest unique to the child, that the State will protect rather judiciously.

However, sometimes we all fall on hard times. A parent can lose their job, or be forced to work fewer hours. In these uncertain economic times, this has become even more of an issue. In these cases, the parent obliged to pay child support must request a temporary abatement, and/or a long-term lowering of their child support obligation. It is no different that if the same situation happened when the child’s parents were married and changed employment situations. There are several things that the Court considers during an abatement proceeding, but that is the general rule. Give me a call, and I can see whether or not you are eligible for such a change in support.

The flip side to this situation occurs when someone refuses to pay their support obligation. I can represent either side (but not in any given incident) of these matters. In this type of case, I can work alongside the Office of Child Support Enforcement to get your child the money they deserve. This is because, again, support is the right of the child. I want to ensure that everyone is adequately represented, regardless of their particular role in the child support system.

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