What You Need to Know About Child Custody In Arkansas
Katie Freeman and Charlie Cunningham
Families going through the custody process are almost always impacted by the emotional toll on everyone involved. The ARlaw teams in Fayetteville and Little Rock want to ensure you have the right information about custody explained in the easiest way possible. During incredibly sensitive times that involve children, we will never add more confusion to the mix. We don’t speak in “lawyer talk” when talking about custody laws in Arkansas. We use people talk. We’re people who have been there, too. In today’s blog, our divorce lawyers Katie and Charlie, have written about Arkansas custody matters. We want to help your children heal receive the best care possible, both during and after divorce.
THE FACTS ABOUT FAMILY LAW
In a multi-part blog series, ARlaw Partners will explore several areas of family law and help answer your frequently asked questions, FAQ, about divorce, custody, child support, and alimony in Arkansas.
CUSTODY IN ARKANSAS 101
How will custody of my child(ren) be determined?
The Arkansas legislature Act 604, passed in April of 2021, states:
In an action concerning an original child custody determination in a divorce or paternity matter, there is a rebuttable presumption that joint custody is in the best interest of the child.
So, what does that mean, exactly?
Essentially, the law supports joint custody in most situations. Joint custody is the default custody in Arkansas proceedings. However, that doesn’t mean it’s always that way. Other custody judgments are considered if any of the following circumstances occur:
- The Court finds that joint custody is not in the best interest of the child
- An agreement has is reached by both parties that resolves all issues that are related to the child
- If one party does not request sole, primary, or joint custody of the child(ren)
- If the evidence is enough to allow the Court to presume the circumstances listed about. This presumption can be overcome with evidence to the contrary though.
What will the Court need to know before deciding the terms of my custody?
You might be asked common questions to help the Arkansas Court review custody arrangement options for your unique situation. Some examples of those questions might be:
- Who is the primary caretaker?
If one parent spends more time caring for the child, the balance will swing toward that parent.
- Does a particular parent have any untreated mental or physical illnesses?
If the answer is yes, that particular parent is less likely to be granted custody.
- Is either of the parents unable to provide financially for the child?
If the child cannot be financially supported by one parent the Court will have to consider that because it cannot make a ruling that is not in the child’s whole best interest.
- Will the child be safer at a particular parent’s home?
The child’s physical safety is a major factor in determining custody – if a parent’s home is unsafe for the child, the Court will not want the child spending time there.
- Does a particular parent abuse drugs and/or alcohol?
Abuse of drugs or alcohol by a parent is a major incentive for that parent to have limited contact with the child.
- Is one of the parents physically violent or abusive toward their spouse or the children?
Again, the children’s physical safety is a major concern of the Court and judges will work to keep children from abusive parents.
- Which parent can provide the child better opportunities, i.e., educational opportunities?
The Court looks at everything through the best interests of the children – if one parent can provide much better opportunities for a child to thrive, the Court will consider it.
- How does each parent present themselves in the courtroom?
Impressions matter a great deal – it is the judge’s job to observe all of the information available to them, both the facts presented and the credibility of all witnesses and parties.
What is joint custody?
Joint custody is divided into two subsections: legal and physical.
- Joint legal custody
This refers to the person who is the decision-maker for the child when it comes to significant things like healthcare, schooling, and religion. Joint legal custody can also include having other minor authorities over the child’s life, such as extracurricular activities and discipline.
- Joint physical custody
This refers to the person who spends the most physical with the child. Parents may agree upon a particular schedule with different ranges of time spent, from every other weekend, for example, to time divided completely equally between each parent.
Are grandparents allowed visitation rights in Arkansas?
Generally, the parents will have an ultimate say on what, if any, visitation rights grandparents may receive. This is because parents usually are aware of what circumstances and environments are best for their kid(s). However, when one parent has died and the grandparents’ ability to see their grandchild have been discontinued, they may file an action to enforce their rights, but this requires both a showing of a prior relationship as well as a showing that substantial harm will occur to the child if their inability to visit the child continues.
What if my former spouse is refusing to grant me my court-ordered visitation time with my child?
When someone is willfully violating a Court Order and not letting you have visitation, your lawyer can file a Motion for Contempt for you. A Motion for Contempt notifies the Court that someone is violating a court order so that the Court may remedy the violation. You can even ask in the Court Order for the person not giving you visitation to pay for your attorney fees because you had to file a Motion of Contempt against them.
What if I want to move to a different state with my children?
The answer to this question depends on your particular custody arrangement and the specific wording of your custody order. This is a question you will certainly need to discuss with your attorney because no two custody situations are alike.
What goes on in a temporary custody hearing in Arkansas?
A temporary custody hearing is when you a Judge, will determine custody arrangements for the time being – during the divorce proceedings before a final agreement is settled. These hearings can involve temporary custody of the children, temporary child support, temporary alimony, and temporary possession of the marital home. A temporary hearing is usually a much shorter hearing than a final hearing. And, when you have your final hearing, the Judge will more than likely make the same custody determination that you had in the temporary hearing.
Does my child have to go with my former spouse for their court-ordered visitation time if my child does not want to?
Yes, your child will have to spend court-ordered time with each parent regardless of whether the child wants to or not. However, if someone can prove that abuse or unsafe conditions surround one parent, then the other parent may petition the Court for a change in custody.