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Arkansas Sole Custody, Joint Custody, and Visitation
Important distinctions to understand when you begin to consider a child custody arrangement are how joint custody differs from sole custody and how they both differ from visitation. In Arkansas, “custody” involves a living arrangement and decision-making authority. When a parent has primary or sole custody, the children live with that parent, and that parent has the authority to make major decisions on behalf of the child — medical, school, religious decisions — without consulting the other parent.
Under a primary custody agreement or order, the non-custodial parent will have rights to “visitation.” Visitation allows the non-custodial parent to spend routine time with the children on a scheduled basis (usually set evenings, weekends, or every other weekend).
Joint custody in Arkansas is an arrangement in which the children split living time between the parents 50-50, and the parents have to consult with each other before making major decisions on behalf of the children. Joint custody is also sometimes referred to as “friendly parenting provisions.” Historically, Arkansas courts do not favor joint custody arrangements. Parents who desire joint custody will usually need to come to the court with a finalized plan on which they both agree. Courts will usually follow agreements that couples have made together, but absent an agreement, it has not been common for Arkansas courts to order joint custody.
To fully understand your custody options and rights, you need to work with an experienced Arkansas attorney. The Rees Law Firm can help you recognize the best options for you and your family and can help you come to an agreement that will meet everyone’s needs.
Contested Custody in Arkansas
If the parents are unable to agree on custody — joint or sole — custody is “contested” and will need to be decided by the court. During this situation, each parent will argue to the court why he or she should receive primary custody or sole custody of the children.
Contrary to popular belief, the courts do not automatically favor one parent over the other. The mother will not have an immediate advantage just because she is the mother. Rather, Arkansas courts look at both parents equally and will make a determination about custody based on the best interests of the children. In so doing, the court will consider a number of different factors about each parent, including (among others):
- Contact with the non-custodial parent – The court will examine which of the parents is more likely to maintain contact with the other parent if given primary custody. The court wants to facilitate the best situation for visitation possible.
- Behavior detrimental to the children – The court will want to know if either parent engages in any activities or has previously exhibited behavior that is detrimental to the health and wellbeing of the children.
- Home environment – The court will look at the environment of each parent’s home. It will consider who else lives in the home, the parent’s work hours and travel, and the overall atmosphere of the home.
- Caregiving – The court will factor in which parent has been the primary caregiver to the children leading up to the custody dispute.
- Economics – The court will make sure each parent is in a financial condition to meet the children’s basic needs. The court will not, however, favor the wealthiest parent for primary custody.
- Children’s preferences – At the discretion of the judge, the court can consult with the children about their own preferences on custody and consider those preferences in making a determination. The court is not obligated to follow those preferences, nor is it obligated to solicit them.
By considering these and other factors, the court will arrive at a decision that it finds in the best interests of the children. In most situations of contested custody, the court will award primary custody to one of the parents and order visitation for the other. Usually, visitation will be ordered as one weekday and every other weekend. Parents will usually then split school breaks and holidays.
Particularly during contested custody situations, an attorney’s expertise and knowledge of the law are invaluable. To ensure you receive a fair outcome, contact the Rees Law Firm today.
Custody Modification in Arkansas
All custody agreements are ordered based on the best interests of the children at the time of the order. Arkansas’s courts understand that circumstances change, and what was best at one time might not be best at another. Therefore, parents have the option to change their custody agreements.
That said, the ability to change the agreement is limited. A parent can only modify the custody arrangement when a material change in circumstances has taken place since the original order. This is not an extremely easy burden to meet, which is why it is so important to make sure your original custody order is truly in your children’s best interests.
In the event of a potentially necessary modification, a skilled lawyer can help you fight for or against the change.
- Hal Rees
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