Perhaps the biggest concerns that divorcing couples have involved who their children will live with and who will make decisions on their behalf. As you can imagine, this can get pretty messy when the parties cannot agree on these issues.
However, the court’s priority when it comes to how custody of a couple’s children will be allocated during and after a divorce is not what the parents want, but always what is in the best interests of the children.
Which Parent Is Most likely to Receive Custody?
Previously, it was assumed that the mother was the best parent to raise a child. The father would be given some rights, but not the best rights. For example, the father would be given weekend visitation, or visitation every other weekend.
This is no longer the presumption under Arkansas family law. Both parents are now deemed equally fit and qualified to raise their children.
It doesn’t matter if, for whatever reason, one parent doesn’t want the other to spend time with the children. Unless that parent can show, under the law, that the other parent is unfit to raise a child based on factors acceptable to the court, he or she has a right to spend time with their children.
Types of Child Custody
There are essentially two types of child custody in Arkansas:
- Legal, and
In Arkansas, legal custody has to do with who will make decisions as to the health, education, and welfare of your children. That means, who will decide where they will go to school, who their doctor will be, what extracurricular activities they will engage in, and other critical day-to-day decisions.
In the majority of cases, the courts will rule that both you and the other parent should share legal custody of your children. This means that both of you must work together to make those critical day-to-day decisions.
This being the case, neither you nor your ex-spouse should expect to have the sole legal authority to make these decisions for your children, nor should you expect to be completely excluded from the decision making process.
This relates to how much time each parent will have with the children. The general rule is that joint physical custody on a 50/50 basis is the best.
The courts want both parents to spend a lot of time with their children, and this makes sense. However, there are some cases where that just can’t work. For example, when one of you lives on the east coast and the other on the west coast.
The court must always consider what’s in the best interest your children when allocating physical custody; even if this means that one parent has considerably less time with the children than the other.
Time-sharing is a concept that attempts to respect both parents’ roles in raising a child. The goal is not to imagine one parent being the custodial parent with the other parent merely having visitation. Instead, you should simply think of it as one parent spending more time with the child than the other parent.
Modern thinking about child custody is that neither you nor your ex should be viewed as the custodial parent. Both of you should, ideally, have a meaningful relationship with your children in order for them to develop properly and fully, and both of you should have equally important roles in your children’s lives, even if one of you spends more time with the children than the other.
This belief—that both parents are equally important to a child, even if one spends more time with the child than the other—helps to clarify how judges look at time-sharing disputes (custody battles). The courts are focused on one thing only when time-sharing disputes arise—what is in the best interest of the child.
How Child Custody is Determined
Most family law courts now require that you and your spouse first go through mediation to try and settle your child custody issues. Mediators often work with the parents to help them to agree on child custody arrangements.
The courts believe that the best child custody arrangements are usually those that the parents choose themselves. This is especially true since it helps reduce the stress and the chance that the parents will end up back in court. Child custody arrangements imposed by the court are more likely to be resisted and challenged in the future.
However, if you and your spouse cannot agree on child custody arrangements on your own, a judge will step in and make the decision for you, which also means that you will lose control over what your custody arrangements will look like.
When considering the best interests of your children in order to determine child custody arrangements for you, the court must weigh many factors, including:
- The emotional bonds the children have with each parent
- The children’s emotional, social, and educational needs
- Which parent can better administer to the children’s needs
- Each parent’s work schedule
- The social, emotional, and mental stability of the parents
- Any history of domestic violence by either parent
- Any history of alcohol or substance abuse by either parent
- The children’s ages
- The children’s preferences
How to Find The Best Child Custody Lawyer
Custody battles can be very tough and emotionally draining. The outcome can affect your family currently and for the rest of your lives. A good Arkansas child custody lawyer can help achieve the best possible outcome with the least amount of collateral damage to all parties involved, including your children.
If you are dealing with a child custody issue in Arkansas, contact Mann & Kemp today at (501) 222-4730 to consult with an experienced Arkansas divorce lawyer who can explain all of your rights and options. We are here to help you focus on what really matters—your family and peace of mind.