Making the decision to end your marriage isn't easy. Not only can divorce be emotionally draining, but it also involves many legal procedures that can be overwhelming if you're not familiar with them. While you probably have many questions about the process, the first thought you might have is, "How do I file for divorce?"
Understanding the steps to file for divorce can be confusing. There are specific requirements involved and necessary paperwork that must be facilitated before your marriage can be legally dissolved — even if you and your spouse amicably agree to part ways. Whether you live in Arkansas or Missouri, here are a few things you should know about how to file for divorce.
Every jurisdiction has certain residency requirements that must be satisfied before you can file for divorce. In Arkansas, you or your spouse must have been a resident of the state for 60 days or more before you can commence the action. In order to seek a dissolution of marriage in Missouri, one of the spouses must have lived in the state for at least 90 days.
Importantly, there are also waiting periods in Arkansas and Missouri before your divorce can be granted. A judge cannot grant a divorce until 30 days have passed from the day the action was filed, even if your divorce is uncontested.
In addition to meeting the residency requirements, you must have a legally valid reason to obtain a divorce. Arkansas is a fault divorce state. The grounds for a divorce in Arkansas include the following:
Generally, the grounds upon which your divorce is based must have occurred within five years prior to the date you filed your complaint with the court.
Arkansas recognizes a "no-fault" ground for divorce, which doesn't require proving that either spouse is to blame for the marriage not working out. You only need to demonstrate that you have lived separate and apart from your spouse for 18 consecutive months. However, it's essential to be aware that even if you live with your spouse for just one day during the 18-month time frame, the clock resets, and the separation period begins again.
Those who have entered into covenant marriages in Arkansas do not have the option to file for divorce based on 18 months separation. Persons in covenant marriages can only obtain a divorce if there has been a complete breach of the marital commitment. If you are in a covenant marriage, you must establish at least one fault ground.
If you satisfy the residency requirements for Missouri, you can proceed with a no-fault divorce if you can show that your marriage is irretrievably broken and cannot be preserved. If your spouse contests that your marriage is irretrievably broken, you will need to prove one of the following:
A Missouri court may also grant a legal separation instead of a divorce if you are unable to prove that your marriage is irretrievably broken.
If you meet the legal criteria for divorce in your state, the next step is to file your paperwork in the county in which you live, and pay any filing fees. In Arkansas, divorce proceedings are commenced with a "Complaint for Divorce." In Missouri, the initial paperwork that must be filed in a divorce case is called a "Petition of Dissolution of Marriage." These documents must include information about the parties and state the grounds upon which you are seeking a divorce.
After these papers are filed with the court, they must be served on your spouse by the sheriff or a private process server, along with the summons. However, your spouse can also agree to waive service of process by signing an acknowledgment that they agree to proceed with the divorce without being formally served. Once they have been served with the commencement papers, your spouse has thirty days to answer in both jurisdictions. If your spouse fails to respond — and service was properly carried out — the court may proceed to grant the divorce.
Divorce papers in Arkansas can also be served by certified mail. Additionally, if you can't locate your spouse to serve them with the Summons and Complaint for Divorce, the court may allow you to effectuate service by publication. In Arkansas, the service by publication requirements can be met by obtaining a "Warning Order" from the court and posting the notice on the courthouse bulletin board for 30 days. You can also publish the notice weekly for two weeks in a newspaper of general circulation.
Similarly, in Missouri, alternate service by certified mail may be requested when personal service isn't possible. If your spouse cannot be found, the court may give you permission to publish a legal notice in a local newspaper for 30 days.
Both Arkansas and Missouri recognize legal separation, which may be an alternative in your situation if you're not certain whether you want to end your marriage. Effectively, a legal separation allows you and your spouse to live apart while remaining married. Depending on your circumstances, legal separation may be a beneficial option — particularly if there may be a possibility of reconciliation.
In rare circumstances, you may also be able to seek an annulment if you can establish that your marriage was never legally valid from the outset. It's a good idea to discuss your options with an experienced divorce attorney who can advise you concerning the best course of action in your case.
If you've been wanting to file for divorce, it's crucial to have an attorney who can guide you through the process and advise you of your legal options. Located in Paragould, Arkansas, The Graham Law Firm provides compassionate counsel and aggressive representation for clients facing divorce in Arkansas and Missouri. Contact The Graham Law Firm today to schedule a consultation with a divorce and family law attorney who will help ensure the best possible outcome for your case.