Posted on: Dec 19, 2019

Arkansas Child Custody Laws

Determining child custody is often a difficult and emotional process for parents and for children. In some cases, parents can agree to a custody arrangement without court intervention.

Courts must intervene if the parents cannot reach an understanding. Arkansas child custody laws determine child custody based on the best interests of the child.

Arkansas Child Custody Law Basics: Types of Child Custody in Arkansas

Arkansas custody laws divide custody into two types: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to the right to make significant decisions in the child’s life.

Legal custody involves decisions affecting the child’s education, healthcare, and religion. Physical custody refers to the daily care of a child. Generally, physical custody means the child lives with the parent. The parent handles the child’s food, clothing, and safety. 

One parent may have sole custody, or exclusive control, over either or both types of custody. Sole legal custody means that one parent makes all decisions about the child’s upbringing.

When a parent has sole physical custody, the child lives with that parent, while the other parent gets regular visits. The parent with sole physical custody is responsible for the day-to-day care of the child. A court may grant the sole physical custodian sole legal custody, as well. 

Parents also might share custody, which is called joint custody. If the parents have joint legal custody, both share the right to make important decisions. Joint physical custody means that the parents share time living with and caring for the child.

Arkansas courts prefer joint custody, but only if joint custody is best for the child.  Under Arkansas child custody laws, when a parent willfully creates conflict to disrupt a joint custody arrangements, the court may give sole custody to the other parent. 

Determining Child Custody in Arkansas

Arkansas courts make child custody decisions based on the best interests of the child. The court uses various factors to identify the child’s best interests. In making its determination, the court will consider: 

  • 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; 
  • The parents’ ability to cooperate in shared custody arrangements; 
  • Whether it is possible to keep siblings together;  
  • Whether either parent is abusive or has demonstrated a pattern of domestic violence;
  • Whether either parent is a registered sex offender; and
  • The child’s preferences if the child is mature enough to understand the nature of the custody dispute. 

Arkansas custody laws exclude gender, religious beliefs, and values from custody determinations. However, a court can consider whether the parent’s lifestyle and behavior might endanger the child. Also, a grandparent can petition for child custody in Arkansas. Arkansas allows a grandparent to take custody when the parent is unable or unwilling to care for the child. 

Changes to Child Custody in Arkansas

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

Contact an Experienced and Compassionate Family Law Attorney

Child custody matters can be very trying for the parents and children involved. While child custody matters can be highly emotional, a fair and amicable resolution is possible. An experienced, compassionate attorney can help negotiate an arrangement that is best for you and your family. 

The family law lawyers at the Harris Law Firm have extensive experience in handling sensitive and challenging family law cases. If you need help in a child custody dispute in Arkansas, contact our legal team today for a free initial consultation. 

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