Arkansas Child Custody Laws

Arkansas Child Custody

You should know this information if you’re engaged in a child custody action in Arkansas.

What are the Types of Child Custody in Arkansas?

Legal custody and physical custody are the two types of custody in Arkansas.

Legal custody refers to the right of a parent to make important decisions on behalf of their child, including decisions about education, religion, medical care, and extracurricular activities. Joint legal custody means both parents have a say in major decisions about the child’s life.

Physical Custody refers to where a child will live. In some cases, one parent may have primary physical custody of the child and is known as the custodial parent, while the other parent has visitation rights and is known as the noncustodial parent.

Supervised visitation occurs when a third party must be present at the non-custodial parent’s visitation. A third party may be a relative or a friend or possibly assigned by the courts. It may be ordered where a parent poses potential harm or cannot properly care for the child.  A third party may be a relative or a friend or possibly assigned by the courts. A third party may be a relative or a friend or possibly assigned by the courts.

Parents may share Joint Physical Custody of their child, which means that the child spends an equal amount of time living with each parent.

Sole Physical Custody means that one parent has legal and physical custody of the child. The other parent may have visitation rights but has no say in significant decisions about the child’s life.  Sole physical custody is less common than shared custody agreements.

In all divorce cases, Arkansas courts make custody determinations based on the child’s best interests.

Determining Child Custody in Arkansas

Parents or the court can create custody arrangements in Arkansas.  Parents who want more control over the process may make an initial attempt, but the court will step in if they can’t agree.

When parents agree on the terms and conditions of a custody agreement, they must still submit the plan to the court, and the court will most likely accept it as long as it is in the child’s best interests.

When parents don’t cooperate and reach an agreement, they can attend mediation in an effort to resolve those disputes. If that fails, each can submit a proposed agreement, and the court will decide the custody arrangements. The court may accept one of the proposed plans or create a different one.

When courts create a custody plan, they use several factors to reach a determination.  Those factors include:

  • The child’s age
  • Each parent’s work schedule
  • How the custody arrangement will best promote stability and continuity in the child’s relationships, home environment, school, and community
  • The financial, mental, and physical well-being of both parents
  • The relationship between the parents and the child, including, for example, which parent is the primary caregiver, the child’s attitude towards each parent, and whether the child and parent get along overall
  • Whether it is possible to keep siblings together
  • Whether either parent is abusive or has demonstrated a pattern of domestic violence or is a registered sex offender
  • Any other factors that the court deems relevant

Arkansas custody laws do not consider gender, religious beliefs, and values in custody determinations. However, a court can consider whether the parent’s lifestyle and behavior might endanger the child.

Grandparents or other parties can petition for child custody as well.  Custody may be granted when parents are unable or unwilling to care for the child.

Read More:  Divorce Laws in Arkansas

What is the Arkansas Best Interests of the Child Standard?

Arkansas child custody laws have changed quite a bit over the past several years.

In the past, courts followed the “Tender Years” doctrine, which assumed that the child’s best interest would be to remain in the custody of the mother up until they reach a certain age.  However, the state now follows the child’s best interest standard.

All custody decisions are driven primarily by this factor, using several statutory elements to reach a final determination.  Those elements include:

Continued Contact.  Who will most likely provide continued contact with the other parent?

Care.  Judges will grant custody or visitation if you show that you will provide love, affection, and guidance for your child.

Domestic Abuse.  Has there been any abuse against the child or a family member?

Character.  Is the spouse requesting custody an honest person? Does the spouse have a caring attitude, stable work, and a good reputation? Does the spouse have a history of alcohol abuse, drug use, or a criminal record?

Environment.  What is the home environment where the child will live or visit?  The court may consider a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend a negative factor and may order both parties to avoid overnight guests of the opposite sex if the child is in the home.

Economics.  What money or finances are available to provide for the child’s food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and other basic needs?

Child’s Preference.  If the child is sufficiently mature, the judge may consider the child’s wishes but does not have to follow the request.

Maintaining Children Together.  The judge will try to keep the children together with one parent instead of splitting them up. However, sometimes it’s healthier to split up children when it’s in their best interests.

Read More:  132 Co-Parenting Tips for Divorced and Separated Parents

What to Know About Parenting Plans

Parenting plans are detailed instructions about all aspects of the child custody arrangement.  The more detailed the plan, the less chance there is for disagreements and confusion later.  Parents can create a plan on their own, or they can get help from a mediator or family law attorney.  If they can’t reach an agreement, the court will prepare a fair and just parenting plan instead.

Parenting plans should contain the following:

  • Physical custody details, including the number of overnight visits, holiday schedules, and school break schedules for each parent
  • Legal custody and if it is split among both parents
  • How children are Exchanged, including when, where, and time of day
  • Transporting children for visitation and other necessary movements
  • Parental access to records and information
  • Vacation and travel approval and advance notifications
  • A child’s ability to communicate with both parents
  • Child support payment amounts and recourse if a parent falls behind.
  • The best way for parents to communicate (text, emails, etc.
  • Contact or noncontact with other family members and friends
  • How are various expenses handled related to medical costs, tuition, school activities, hobbies, and recreational activities?
  • Children’s use of technology and online activities
  • Handling special needs for the children as they arise
  • How to address child discipline and mental health issues
  • Guidelines when a new partner is involved
  • Grooming and dress guidelines (extreme haircuts, make-up, etc.)
  • Drinking or drug use in the presence of the children

How Do I Modify an Arkansas Custody or Visitation Order?

When there is a material change in circumstances, the courts can modify a custody agreement.  The same best interests standards apply when determining child custody at a later date.

Material changes can include a job change or unemployment, moving out of the area from the non-custodial parent, health issues, or other similar life events.

A child custody order may change if modification is in the child’s best interest due to a material change of circumstances. Material changes include, for example, unemployment, moving out of the area, or new health issues.

Relocation by itself doesn’t necessarily constitute a material change in circumstances. Arkansas case law favors a custodial parent’s right to relocate with the child.  However, relocation can constitute a marital change in circumstances to the court if a child’s overall well-being would suffer as a result of the move.

A court will look at the following factors to decide if relocation is appropriate:

  • The parent’s reasons for the relocation
  • Educational, health, and leisure opportunities available in the new location
  • The noncustodial parenting time and communication schedule and the potential impact of relocation
  • The effects of the relocation on immediate and extended family relationships
  • The child’s preference if the child is of a sufficient age and maturity level to form an opinion.

Read More:  How to Prepare for a Divorce Hearing

Arkansas Child Custody FAQs

How is custody handled in cases involving unmarried parents?

The law assumes a divorcing couple are the child’s parents if the child was born during the marriage.  If a child is born to an unmarried woman in Arkansas, legal custody of the child will be given to the mother until the child turns 18.   A biological father can be granted rights and responsibilities after they prove paternity.  This can be done through paternity acknowledgment or DNA testing.

What happens if a parent breaks the custody agreement in Arkansas?

A custody agreement is a formal legal document approved by the courts.  As such, it is enforceable to ensure the terms and conditions are met by both parties.  When they are not, either party can petition the court for enforcement which can lead to fines, court costs, or even a modification in the original agreement.

A person that denies or interferes with the other parent’s court-ordered visitation time or custody is subject to prosecution by the State of Arkansas. The punishment ranges in severity from a Class-C Misdemeanor to a felony, depending on the nature of the offense and whether or not it is a frequent occurrence.

Can a parent withhold visitation if the other parent doesn’t pay child support or spousal support in a timely manner?

No.  The two are unrelated.  If a parent denies visitation for this reason, they can be found in contempt and face court penalties.

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