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Understanding Arkansas Law’s Presumption in Favor of Joint Custody

At one time, Arkansas courts deciding on child custody generally favored keeping children with their mother unless she was an unfit parent. But this approach has been abandoned. Arkansas law now provides for granting joint custody whenever possible, based on the policy that having both parents take an active role creates a stable and supportive environment for the child’s growth and development.

In 2021, Arkansas enacted a law that made joint custody the default option for all new child custody orders. Joint custody means the approximate and reasonable equal division of time with the child by both parents. It also means that both parents have joint decision-making authority for all important matters, such as the child’s education, religion, health care and major life activities. 

The change in the law created a presumption of joint custody, which means that a parent seeking sole custody now has the burden of proof. They must demonstrate by “clear and convincing evidence” that joint custody would not be in the child’s best interest. The “clear and convincing” standard is a very high bar to meet.

When determining the “best interest of the child,” Arkansas courts focus on the child’s overall well-being and development. Factors to be evaluated include:

  • The parents’ parenting abilities — The court assesses each parent’s capacity to provide for the child’s physical and emotional needs. This includes factors like stability, financial resources, and ability to create a nurturing environment.
  • The child’s relationship with each parent — The strength and quality of the child’s bond with each parent is crucial. The court considers the child’s age, expressed preferences (if developmentally appropriate), and how comfortable they feel with each parent.
  • The parents’ communication and ability to co-parent — Effective communication and cooperation between parents are essential for a successful joint custody arrangement. The court gauges the parents’ willingness to work together in the child’s upbringing.
  • The child’s living situation — The court analyzes the living arrangements of each parent, including factors like proximity to schools, childcare availability, and overall safety of the environment.
  • The child’s mental and physical health — Any pre-existing medical conditions or potential disruptions to the child’s mental health due to a custody change are considered.

Ultimately, parenting time can be denied to a parent if the court finds after a hearing that it would seriously endanger the physical, mental or emotional health of the child.

Of course, the most successful child custody arrangements are those agreed upon by both parents with the children’s welfare in mind. An experienced Arkansas family law attorney can help you fashion a plan designed to preserve a strong and healthy bond with your child.

At Schnipper, Britton & Stobaugh in Hot Springs, we represent Arkansas residents in the full range of family law matters. To schedule a consultation, call our firm at 501-762-0887 or contact us online.