Paul Simon reminded us that there are 50 ways to leave your lover. But you may not be aware that there are a handful of ways to leave your spouse as well, at least if you live in Arkansas. There are two types of marriage recognized in the state, covenant and regular marriage, and each type has different requirements for divorce. In Arkansas, you can opt for one of three types of legal separations, and your choice will be determined by the type of marriage you entered into and whether you are on your way to a divorce.
Marriage and Divorce in Arkansas
If you plan to marry in Arkansas, you'll have to choose whether to have a covenant marriage or a traditional marriage. In the former, the couple recognizes marriage as a lifelong commitment and acknowledges that it is more difficult to divorce or separate later if the marriage doesn't work. The couple must do special therapy before a covenant marriage, and additional counseling is required if they want to call it quits later. For a traditional marriage in Arkansas, no counseling is required when the couple divorces or separates.
Divorce vs. Legal Separation
Many couples who feel they have reached a breaking point in their marriage file for divorce. A divorce ends the marriage, leaving each spouse a divorced person who can marry again if they choose to. Divorcing couples often work out the terms of the divorce, including child support and custody and property division themselves, write these terms up into an agreement and ask the court to enter it as the divorce agreement. Alternatively, the court hears testimony and makes the divorce orders itself.
Legal separation looks like divorce, and the same legal issues arise, requiring agreement or court ruling. A separating couple can create a separation agreement or ask the court to decide the issues. Separation looks like a divorce and feels like a divorce but at the end of the day, the couple is still married. Neither can remarry although their lives are entirely separate.
A couple may opt for a legal separation instead of a divorce because of religious beliefs. Some have certain insurance benefits that one of the spouses would lose if the marriage were dissolved.
Legal Separation in Arkansas
Arkansas offers its residents not one, not two, but three types of legal separation. The one a couple picks often relates to the type of marriage they entered into.
If you entered into a covenant marriage, it is harder to obtain a legal separation than after a non-covenant "standard" marriage. The spouses have to go to counseling from a source authorized by the state before separating. You also have to prove that your spouse did something bad, like committing adultery, been convicted of a felony, physically or sexually abused you or one of your children, is an alcoholic, or something similar. Alternatively, you can get a legal separation without this type of "fault" proof if the two spouses live apart for two years.
If the marriage was a standard marriage, getting a legal separation is quite simple. You don't need to prove fault. All you need to do is work out a separation agreement resolving family support, custody and property division issues in a way that the court finds to be fair and equitable. When the court approves it, it becomes one of the Arkansas legal documents defining each spouse's rights post-separation.
Finally, you can get a divorce from bed and board in Arkansas. This is a "limited" divorce and often used by couples who intend to get a divorce after spending the requisite 12 months living apart. Neither spouse can remarry after a divorce from bed and board until they spend the requisite time apart, and a second court gives them an absolute divorce.