The Quick, Easy, and Cheap Arkansas Divorce

Quick, Easy, and Cheap Arkansas Divorce

I talk to a lot of people who need divorces. Everyone wants them to be quick and easy, and most want them to be cheap. To that end, many of these people don’t have much money and want advice about whether they can complete their divorce without an attorney. As it turns out, many of them, frankly, don’t need me (or any other lawyer, for that matter). It just depends on how complicated the divorce is going to be.

easy quick cheap arkansas divorce

And although no two divorces are the exactly the same, it always seems to be the same issues that make them more complicated:

1. Whether your spouse likes to fight

2. Kids

3. Stuff

(Those are roughly in order of importance.)

Each of these things will make your divorce more complicated. If you have kids, it’s more complicated. If you own a bunch of stuff together, it’s more complicated. And if your spouse is immature or simply wants to fight, it’s more complicated. Any one of these might require you to hire a family lawyer; if more than one of these is true, it’s almost certain that you need a lawyer.

But if you don’t, go here: Quick, Easy, and Cheap Arkansas Divorce. A good friend of mine built this divorce packet, and it is very helpful for the person who has an uncontested divorce and wants a divorce that is quick, easy, and cheap.

It is hard to know whether the divorce packet is for you—whether you can complete your divorce yourself. On one hand, a lawyer is expensive. (Most people don’t have a lawyer fund sitting around.) But on the other hand, everyone has something to lose in a divorce—usually more than they realize. A good family lawyer can protect what’s important to you.

Grandparent Visitation in Arkansas

Grandparent Visitation

If you want to understand the law, you have to understand this: It’s about striking a balance between competing interests (or rights, as the case may be). The law surrounding grandparent visitation in Arkansas is an excellent example of how this balance works—and why achieving this balance can be so difficult.

On one hand, you have parents and their rights. Everyone pretty much agrees that parents should be able to make the decisions that affect their kids—unless, of course, the parents are unfit. Under normal circumstances, mommies and daddies don’t like the courts telling them what’s best for their kids. Subject to certain limitations, parents have a fundamental right to parent; as the word “fundamental” suggests, you don’t mess with that right unless you have a good reason—and sometimes grandparent visitation is not a good enough reason.arkansas-grandparent-visitation

Grandparents, however, don’t have a fundamental right to act as grandparents. But they do have some rights, especially in our society, where grandparents play an increasingly important role in raising children. (As an aside, let me encourage any Arkansas grandparents who are currently helping to raise their grandchildren: Thank You!).

The law about grandparent visitation in Arkansas is built to balance these two interests—a parent’s right to parent and the right that a grandparent has to keeping a good relationship with his or her grandchild.

A grandparent can get court-ordered grandparent visitation if the following conditions are met:

1. The marriage between the parents of the child has ended due to divorce, death, or legal separation. (Or the grandparent is one of the mom’s parents or one of the dad’s parents and paternity has been established.

2. The grandparent can show a significant and viable relationship with the child and that the grandparent visitation is in the child’s best interest.

The requirements for a significant and viable relationship are set forth in the statute (Arkansas Code Annotated § 9-13-103), as are the requirements for what is in the best interest of the child.

If you’re a grandparent and you think that you can meet these requirements, please contact us today to schedule a complimentary consultation with an experienced family lawyer. We can help you decide what the next step should be.

July 2014 MEE Subjects

July 2014 MEE Subjects

In the spirit of ongoing generosity (and remembering how incredibly stressful that studying for the Bar was), here are my predictions for the MEE section of the July 2014 Bar:

1) a Civ Pro question (surprise there always is);

2) I’m 50/50 on Family Law, and Contracts;

3) Wills (No Trusts);

4)  Commercial Paper (No Secured Transactions);

5) No Constitutional or Criminal Law;

6) There will be a couple between Conflicts, Property, Torts, and Evidence.

This is all a kind of educated guess. Here is a link to a PDF of the history of questions. Blue means they were asked and grey means it was a mixed question. Also, it looks as if mixed questions are becoming more popular.

On the subject of mixed questions: For those who took the July 2013 Bar, they’ll remember the crazy Con Law/Family Law question. It was terrible. Don’t pigeonhole your answer because you think the question is only drawing on one subject.

One last thing: The Bar exam is not like law school exams. If you’ve put in the time, be encouraged: you’ll almost certainly pass.

Good luck on the July 2014 Bar Exam.

Bowen Law School Makes “Best Value” List

As a recent graduate of UALR’s William H. Bowen School of Law, I feel comfortable saying that Bowen students aren’t usually excited about law school rankings. Until someone decides to publish a list that ranks something like “Proximity to Malvern, Arkansas,” “Likelihood to be Attacked by a Goose,” or “Weirdest Yard Sculpture,” Bowen is unlikely to rank anywhere near the top of a list.

So I was pleasantly surprised to see that Bowen made this list published by the National Jurist of the “Best Value Law Schools.”

Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until the September print issue to know whether Bowen scored an A, A-, or B+. Apparently National Jurist does not understand that Bowen no longer recognizes the validity (or existence) of letter grades.

Common Law Marriage in Arkansas?

Common Law Marriage in Arkansas

One of the worst parts of my job is that I often have to be the bearer of bad news. Recently, a woman called my office for information about receiving some of her partner’s retirement benefits. She was convinced that because she had lived with her partner for nineteen years, she had a “common law marriage” and should be treated like any other spouse. Her partner recently died and she needed help.

common-law-marriage-arkansas

Unfortunately, however, Arkansas does not recognize “common law marriage.” In fact, Arkansas has never recognized “common law marriage.” This news was devastating to her because it meant that those nineteen years she lived with her partner meant nothing—she had no more rights to those retirement benefits than I did.

The State of Arkansas does recognize “common law marriages” if the parties gained that status in another state. So, for instance, if a couple lived in Texas (which allows common law marriages) and had done all the things to establish a valid common law marriage there, Arkansas would recognize that marriage just as if it were a “normal” marriage. But it is impossible—no matter if a couple acts like they are married for 60 years—to get married in Arkansas without going through the formal process.

The woman had made a costly mistake by simply assuming that she had a legal marriage.

Common Law Marriage in Arkansas

How to Establish Paternity

Paternity in Arkansas

Dad-Paternity

I talk to a lot of dads—many of whom have fathered children outside of marriage. When they ask about their rights (How to set up visitation, Can I keep the mother from moving away, etc.), they are inevitably surprised to learn that they have virtually no rights. Until they go to court and establish paternity, they are about as important as any other dude walking down the street. But you don’t have to take my word for it:

“When a child is born to an unmarried woman, legal custody of that child shall be in the woman giving birth to the child until the child reaches eighteen (18) years of age unless a court of competent jurisdiction enters an order placing the child in the custody of another party.”

Ark. Code Ann. § 9-10-113(a)

How do you establish Paternity?

A father must sue to establish paternity before he has any rights in the eyes of the State of Arkansas. It is not only a father who can bring a paternity suit: the biological mother, putative (probable) father, the parent or grandparent of a deceased putative father, or child support enforcement. If the mother brings suit, a father can simply sign an acknowledgement of paternity, which pretty much settles the issue. (A father can rescind (or take back) this acknowledgment if he does does so before the court date or within 60 days, whichever is sooner.

If the guy doesn’t think he’s the father (or mom doesn’t think he’s the father), a party can request a scientific paternity test. Dad might also request a paternity test if he’s signed the birth certificate or put his name on the putative father registry, but dad will then bear the burden of proof to show that he’s not actually the father. (This burden can be overcome with a paternity test.)

What happens after Dad establishes Paternity?

After dad establishes paternity, he will be expected to pay child support and will have the right to regular visitation. Dad also has the right to seek custody of the children, but dad must show that he is fit, that he has provided for the child (or children), and it is in their best interest to be in Dad’s custody. Practically speaking, Mom is usually going to be able to keep custody unless Dad is able to show that Mom isn’t a good parent.

Establishing paternity is not a difficult process, but you will need help to make sure your rights are protected. Contact us today for a free consultation. 

What is a “Transparenting Class?”

Transparenting Class in Pulaski County, Arkansas

Transparenting ClassThe divorce and child custody process always requires one to navigate two important policy concerns:

1) We don’t want people to have to jump through unnecessary hoops to get divorced.

2) Most people need help in working together to co-parent.

There’s no clear answer to this conundrum, but the legislature’s answer is at at least workable: Ark. Code Ann. § 9-12-322, which allows courts to require parents to attend parenting classes or mediation before getting divorced. Whether it’s a good idea or not is a worthy debate, but it’s not necessarily worthy of a blog post. Instead, this post is designed to help you (whoever you may be, reader) to navigate Pulaski County’s standard requirement that one attend the “transparenting seminar” (or transparenting class).

The standard Order for Transparenting Seminar in Pulaski County has the following language:

The parties in the above matter are hereby ordered to complete the TransParenting class at Family Service Agency, 628 Broadway, Suite 300, North Little Rock, Arkansas, 72114, telephone number (501) 372-4242, prior to the entry of a Decree of Divorce in this case. The TransParenting course is an educational program designed to teach effective parenting during the transitions of divorce or parental separation. The cost for the four (4) hour educational seminar is $50.00, by Cash or Money Order, for each litigant and will be collected by Family Service Agency.

I have been told by other lawyers that you cannot waive the Transparenting Class, although I have also spoken to those in the know who simply suggested I submit an Order and could expect to have the requirement waived. As with most family law issues in Arkansas courts, I suppose it depends on the judge. If it was important that someone get out out of the Transparenting Class, I would try it.

More importantly, I think, one need not blindly follow the guidelines set forth above. Instead of actually having to attend an in-person Transparenting Class and pay $50 cash, one can simply go to ParentClassOnline and take the Transparenting Class online. And they accept credit cards for those of us who never even have enough cash to even pay for parking (Or to avoid splitting an infinitive).

 

Comprehensive Estate Planning – Your Legacy

Legacy PlanningWhen most Arkansans  think of estate planning, the only objective they have in mind  is to transfer assets and belongings  to the people and organizations they want to have them after they die. They also consider the possible delay (probate) and costs (fees and taxes) and want to decrease both of those. That is a correct purpose. But great estate planning goes beyond this—it creates a plan for someone to take your place (a successor) when you are no longer able to perform your responsibilities due to death or incapacity.

Consider all the areas in your life that would be affected by your death or incapacity. Here are some areas you may or may not have considered:

Your business. If you own a business, it most likely provides for your family, your employees,  and your clients. Business succession planning is critical for the business to continue in your absence. You may want the business to be run by one of your children, a business partner, or a key employee. But without a written plan, the funding to make it happen and careful grooming of the right successor, the business you spent most of your life building and running will likely disintegrate without you. Life insurance is often used to provide the funding needed or to compensate other children who do not work in the business.

Your family. If you provide financial assistance or hands-on care for an aging parent, your spouse, or a child with special needs, you need to plan for a successor. Life insurance may provide the needed funds, but someone will need to manage the money, write checks and make financial decisions. You also need a plan for this person’s care if they outlive you. Will another family member take over? Will the loved one need to move to a care facility? The more you can do now, the smoother the transition in your absence. Family business law is the combination of these two areas of law.

Your minor children. If you have young children, you need to name a guardian. If you don’t do this and something happens to both parents, a judge will choose someone to raise them without knowing your preference. Do you have enough assets to provide for your family if something happens to you? Would your spouse be able to make it without your income? What about college for your children?

Your pets. For some people, their pets are their children. Most pet owners would agree their pets are part of the family. Who will succeed you as their owners if they outlive you? Have you planned for their financial care? Pet trusts are a vehicle that allow you to do this.

Your place as patriarch or matriarch. Who will succeed you as the head of your family? Have you considered which of your children or grandchildren would continue the values and lessons you want to pass down to future generations as part of your legacy? Are you grooming anyone as your successor?

Most of us want to leave some kind of legacy. Planning for successors in all areas of our lives provides an excellent example to others and shows how much we care

Emancipation in Arkansas

Arkansas Emancipation Laws

I haven’t done a formal survey, but there seems to be a lot of interest in minors getting rid of their parents. Unfortunately, however, there doesn’t seem to be much clarity about the details. Perhaps this will help.arkansas-emancipation

What is Emancipation?

The term “emancipation” is broadly used by Arkansas courts to describe either a) the date upon which one turns eighteen or b) the date upon which a person no longer is eligible for child support. (Those are not always the same date.) No help there. The term appears in a lot of older cases, so it may have seen more widespread usage (or had an even broader definition) in judicial yesteryear.

The term “emancipation” appears three time in the Arkansas Code, two of which are relevant to our question. In the definition section to the UCCJEA, the Arkansas Code mentions something known as “contractual emancipation,” which is presumably the removal of a minor’s disability to contract—we’ll get back to this. The other usage is in Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-362 in a section entitled “Emancipation of Juveniles.”

But here’s the problem with that law: It can only be used in a dependency-neglect, FINS, or delinquency case. So the natural way to understand emancipation is that it is restricted to DHS matters, meaning that it doesn’t apply for most situations. The statute also lines out various hoops a would-be emancipatee (you’re welcome for that) would have to meet, which are fairly difficult and make emancipation even less available.

Options Other Than Formal Emancipation

There are two other situations in which you can throw off the shackles of childhood before you’re 18:

1. You can get married, or

2. You can petition a court to have your “disability” removed.

In the first instance, both parties will need parental consent. The husband must be 17, while the wife can be 16.

In the second instance, anyone over 16 can petition a court to “remove their disability”—basically, make them able to enter contracts just like an adult. Interestingly, this option (codified at Ark. Code Ann. § 9-26-104) does not require parental consent, although the parent(s) must have notice.

Healthcare Costs during Retirement

In the practice area of Elder Law we often deal with how to pay for the medical costs of our clients. Most of the time people do not call until they are facing a $6,000.00 a month bill from the nursing home. Most people spend a large amount of money on healthcare before they ever enter a nursing home. Although some people accrue enough savings to meet their basic needs, health costs – which tend to rise after retirement – remain a major concern. A recent MarketWatch analysis found that most retirees will spend an average of $250,000 on out-of-pocket health costs during their retirement years, an amount that can quickly cut into their savings.

Health savings accounts (HSAs) offer people a way to save for these costs now and into retirement years. Health savings accounts were introduced just over 10 years ago, many years after flexible spending accounts (FSAs), which you use to pay medical bills each year. Many people confuse the features. FSAs were designed as a way to manage predictable health-care expenses within a given year. HSAs are designed to be a powerful short and long term savings vehicle.

HSAs are individual accounts, just like personal checking and savings accounts. As such, they are portable – the account and the contributions in it remain the property of the account holder, even if he or she changes jobs or enrolls in a different health insurance plan. You can continue to contribute up to the allowable IRS limit, as long as they are enrolled in qualifying high deductible health plans. The funds roll over from year to year with no expiration.

HSA contribution limits

Best of all, HSA contributions are triple-tax-advantaged. Contributions are tax free. Once HSA account balances reach a minimum threshold, funds can be invested, with interest and earnings on investments tax free. And HSA account holders do not pay income tax on funds when they withdraw the money for qualified health-care expenses, as they do with the money in their 401Ks. All of these features make HSAs an attractive way of managing near term health-care spending and saving for health-care costs through retirement.