Area of Law:
When a couple divorces and there is a minor child involved, an Arkansas divorce decree will specify who has physical custody as well as legal custody of the child. Physical custody determines where and with whom the child will live. Legal custody specifies who has the legal right to make important decisions concerning the child related to issues such as education, religion, medical issues, and discipline.
There are typically several different custody arrangements that may be made for children of divorced parents. In most cases, courts will award physical custody to one parent with whom the child will live most of the time. The parent with physical custody, or the custodial parent, often shares legal custody, or the right to make decisions regarding the child, with the non-custodial parent.
Many child custody arrangements involve joint custody in which the child spends a relatively equal amount of time with each parent. In Arkansas, custody awards are made according to the welfare and best interests of the child, and joint legal custody is awarded whenever possible. For a summary of custody laws in Arkansas, go to: lawyers.com.
Most parents agree about the custody, child support, and visitation issues pertaining to their children; however, if parents are unable to come to an agreement, an Arkansas judge will decide these issues for them based on the best interests of the child. Children who are at least 14 years of age may be allowed to choose which parent they would like to live with, and courts will generally abide by their decision, provided that the parent is not considered unfit to care for the child.
According to findlaw.com, courts consider various factors when awarding child custody, most importantly the best interests of the child. This “best interest” standard varies state to state, but some of the most common standards applied by many states like Arkansas include the following:
- Wishes of the child (if he or she is old enough to capably express a reasonable preference)
- Mental and physical health of the parents
- Religion and/or cultural considerations
- Need for the continuation of a stable home environment
- Support and opportunity for interaction with members of the extended family of either parent
- Interaction and interrelationship with other members of the household
- Adjustment to school and community
- Age and sex of the child
- Parental use of excessive discipline or emotional abuse
- Evidence of parental drug, alcohol, or sex abuse
Arkansas courts try to award custody so that the child will have frequent and continuing contact with both parents. In making the custody order, Arkansas courts consider which parent is more likely to allow the child or children frequent and continuing contact with the non-custodial parent. Orders providing for the support and custody of children in Arkansas are subject to modification after the divorce if there is a substantial change in the circumstances of either parent, such as an increase or decrease in income or a change in the living arrangements of the children. The Arkansas legislature provides a full text of the custody laws in the state.