When obtaining a marriage license in Arkansas you will have to choose which type of marriage you wish to obtain. Either a “regular” marriage or a covenant marriage.

1) A regular marriage is just what it sounds like. It is a conventional marriage between two consenting adults along with other requirements such as:

  • Both parties are old enough to legally marry within the state (over the age of 18 or parental consent is required for parties age 15 to 17)

  • Both parties are capable of entering the marriage both physically and mentally

  • Consent to marry was not obtained through fraud

  • Neither party was forced to marry the other

  • The marriage is not incestuous

2) A covenant marriage involves a few more details, which results in it being a bit harder to obtain a divorce. Only three states Arkansas, Arizona and Louisiana offer a covenant marriage option. A covenant marriage sounds like something that was established in the 1800s, but it was actually only passed into law in 1997. Louisiana became the first state to pass such a law. In 2001, Arkansas passed the Covenant Marriage Act.

The two-tiered covenant system of marriage was designed to strengthen the family. Some studies have shown this type of marriage has had some success. Couples receiving counseling are less likely to get divorced and other communities are reporting a decline in divorce rates. Although, Arkansas is still reporting one of the highest divorce rates in the nation, this may not be reflective of the couples that choose to obtain a covenant marriage.

A covenant marriage requires premarital counseling before getting married and getting a divorce. However, abuse, felony, adultery, abandonment, or long periods of separation are conditions accepted for obtaining a divorce. Covenant marriages try to establish a renewed commitment to having a long-term marriage. Therefore, quickie divorces are not possible. 

Additionally, the act allows couples that are already married to execute a declaration of intent to designate their marriage a Covenant Marriage by signing a recitation and an affidavit after receiving counseling (the counselor must attest to the counseling). Finally, the intent must be filed with the official who issues marriage licenses in the county of which the couple lives.

The bottom line of covenant marriage laws is that a couple cannot get a divorce easily. A no-fault divorce would not be an option. A no-fault divorce allows a spouse to file for a divorce without proving any fault on the part of the other spouse. The most common reason is “irreconcilable differences” or an “irreparable breakdown of the marriage.” A covenant marriage would require a more detailed reason for divorce.

A third type of marriage is a common law marriage. Many states recognize common law marriages such as our neighboring state of Oklahoma, but Arkansas does not if the couple has only cohabited in the state of Arkansas. Arkansas has never recognized common law marriage. Few circumstances will allow the state of Arkansas to recognize such a marriage:

  • If the parties gained that status in another state. For example, if the couple lived in Oklahoma and had done all things to establish a valid common law marriage there, Arkansas would recognize it as a “regular” marriage.

  • Each partner signed power of attorney papers while in the relationship.

Keep in mind that the date of actually declaring the specific type of marriage can be established by the court. This is why it is a good idea to sign durable power of attorney and medical power of attorney papers to connect a date to the common law marriage claim.  Dividing assets when a couple separates after cohabiting for several years if no common law marriage has been established can be a real challenge. Additionally, if one of the spouses dies, it can be an even bigger problem. If a couple cohabited together for 20 plus years, but never really established a common law marriage by a power of attorney, there is a strong chance he or she will not receive any of the deceased spouses retirement benefits.

It is imperative that you protect yourself, we will be happy to assist you in developing your power of attorney and all your marriage law needs. Contact Kevin Hickey Law Partners today.

Things are about to get better. Call us.

(479) 434-2414 Fort Smith • (479) 802-6560 NWA

In the River Valley:
502 Garrison Avenue
Fort Smith, AR 72901
Phone: (479) 434-2414
Fax: (479) 434-2415

In Northwest Arkansas:
1750 S. Osage Springs Drive, Suite 210
Rogerse, AR 72758
Phone: (479) 802-6560
Fax: (479) 802-6561

Mon - Fri 8:30 - 5:00

(Closed 12:00pm - 1:00pm)