This is the next post in a series of articles discussing seeking a divorce in Little Rock, Arkansas when one’s spouse cannot be located. My previous article discussed how service of process can be accomplished by publication in Arkansas when a spouse’s location is unknown. After exhausting reasonable efforts to identify the missing person’s whereabouts, a plaintiff can publish a notice either on the court’s bulletin board or in the newspaper. Doing so satisfies the legal requirements of notifying the defendant. In this post, I will discuss how the family court typically rules on common divorce issues when the defendant is not physically present at the hearing. These issues can have long-term, significant impacts on all parties. It is important, therefore, to consult with an attorney to understand your legal rights. Contact my office today to speak with an attorney.
Divorce settlements and judgments often involve more than the dissolution of a marriage. Issues such as the division of marital property and debts, ongoing spousal support, child custody, and child support are often decided as part of the divorce process. In a typical divorce case, both parties are present and actively provide information required by the court or requested during discovery. Spouses submit financial disclosures, employment and earnings information as well as schedules of marital debts and assets. When a divorce is contested, cases can proceed to trial, can involve witness testimony, and the presentation of other evidence before the judge issues a verdict. Contentious divorces may take several months, if not years, to resolve. In cases where one spouse cannot be located, however, the court relies on information provided by the plaintiff in making these types of decisions. It is important to understand that the court will not award the filing spouse anything more than they are entitled to under the law simply because the other spouse is absent. It is also important to realize that the missing spouse may return and seek the reopening of the case at some point in the future. For these reasons, a plaintiff seeking a default divorce must take care to accurately present all information to the court throughout the case.
Consider the following example, a husband is seeking a divorce on grounds of abandonment by his wife. The couple has been separated for two years and he does not know her current address. After serving her by publication, he proceeds to his hearing. He presents information to the court indicating that during their marriage, she incurred thousands of dollars of credit card debt in his name. He asks the court to absolve him of responsibility for the debt and hold her liable for the full amount. Consistent with Arkansas law, the court views the debt as a marital liability and divides it equally between the spouses. The fact that she is not present to defend herself will not normally persuade the judge to infer additional liability against her. Furthermore, if she later returns and reopens the case based on fraudulent information presented by her husband during the proceedings, this may be problematic for him. For instance, if she can demonstrate that he incurred the debt by spending their marital assets on his girlfriend while they were married, the court may hold him accountable for perjury or fraud.
Divorce cases can become complicated, particularly where one party cannot be located. My office has experience handling a variety of divorce cases and is ready to assist you. If you need assistance, contact my office today to schedule a consultation with a lawyer. In addition to Little Rock, I also handle matters in Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Springdale, Jonesboro, North Little Rock, Conway, Rogers, Pine Bluff, and throughout the rest of Arkansas.