1) One of the parties has to have lived in Arkansas – not visited but actually lived- for 60 days before filing. If contested, the court will look at evidence to prove the plaintiff’s assertion that he/she has been living in Arkansas for the required time such as does the plaintiff have an Arkansas driver’s license, where the plaintiff filed taxes, plaintiff’s employment location and duration, plaintiff’s lease/mortgage documents- just to name a few. This requirement that one of the parties has lived in Arkansas for 60 days gives the court personal jurisdiction.
2) ARKANSAS IS NOT A “NO FAULT STATE”. This means that you can’t just get a divorce because you don’t love your spouse anymore. General indignities (continuous arguing that is escalating), infidelity, separation for 18 months, alcohol and drug abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse. Abuse of the children. These are a few of the most common reasons stated in a divorce complaint to show fault.
3) The grounds for divorce in #2 MUST have occurred in the (5) years preceding the filing of the divorce.
4) The circuit court in each county has what is called subject matter jurisdiction to issue a divorce. A divorce could not be filed in a district court or federal court.
5) The complaint for divorce must be filed with the circuit clerk of the county in Arkansas where one of the parties is domiciled. Domicile is different from residency in #1 above. Your marriage could have taken place in a county in Arkansas for 20 years, you move out and go and live with another family member in a different county in Arkansas one day before you file with the intent to make this new county your home. You can file in the new county or the previous county where your spouse still lives. When filed, the circuit clerk should issue a summons.
6) Service of Process: the complaint and a summons (must have the summons) must be served on the defendant as follows:
a) by a process server or deputy in the county where the defendant lives; or
b) by certified, return-receipt requested, restricted delivery mail; or
c) The Defendant can sign a document saying he/she received the complaint and summons. This is tricky as it must be worded exactly as required by law. Best to use a or b above.
Service can be made by warning order if you do not know where the defendant is living. This takes court permission and you will probably need the help of an experienced family law attorney as there are several steps to achieving this form of service. It can also be expensive.
Also keep in mind, there are very specific rules about serving a defendant in prison or in the military.
7) Once a defendant is served, usually he/she has 30 days to file a written answer with the court. If the defendant does not answer within the 30 day time frame, the court can grant a divorce to the plaintiff but the Arkansas Rules surrounding the practice of law require a motion for default judgement to be filed before the divorce can be granted for not answering.
8) After service of the complaint and summons on the defendant, and he/she does or does not answer, the process can take many twists and turns depending on what both parties want. Many cases are settled by agreement of the parties, with or without lawyers involved.
9) When the divorce is finally granted, a divorce decree will have to be presented to the court for signature. This is a document that has to be drafted by the parties and their attorneys and it divides the property, states custody and support decisions and decides any other issues between the parties. There has to be a witness presented to the court usually called a residence witness before the divorce can be granted by the court. This witness will have to be able to testify that the plaintiff has been a resident of Arkansas for the 60 days stated in #1 above and the witness has personal knowledge of the divorce and separation of the parties.