Child custody awarded to father, after mother's relocation request

After a divorce is completed, child custody disputes may still arise, particularly when one parent seeks to relocate with the child. Such decisions are generally driven by the best interests of the child, but they may also be impacted by issues such as whether the parents agree to a true joint custody arrangement during the divorce.

The recent case of Singletary v. Singletary provided the Arkansas Supreme Court with the opportunity to discuss these issues.

A mother wishes to relocate for her new husband's job

The couple had one child, a daughter, and they were awarded joint custody in the divorce, with the mother having primary physical custody. The divorce settlement agreement stated that the couple would alternate custody of their daughter on a weekly basis. The agreement also made no provisions for child support. Both parties remarried after the divorce.

Approximately one year after the divorce, the mother filed a motion to change custody based on her new husband having been transferred to Texas. The new job would allow the mother to stay at home with the child. Thus, she requested sole custody of the child. The mother argued that she should receive a presumption in favor of the relocation because she was the primary custodial parent, and that the prior shared agreement could no longer work.

The circuit court determined that the relocation and the couple's inability to cooperate constituted a material change in circumstances, and concluded a change in custody would be in the child's best interest. Sole custody was awarded to the father. The mother appealed.

The best interest of the child

In reviewing the case, the Arkansas Supreme Court held that there was no presumption in favor of the parent with primary physical custody, where the parents shared legal joint custody of the child. As stated by the court: "In a true joint custody arrangement, both parents share equal time and custody with the child; therefore, there is not one child-parent relationship to take preference over the other."

Among other factors, the court noted that all of the child's extended family ties were in Arkansas and none were in Texas. In addition, the court found that the father and his new wife were positive influences in the child's life.

After weighing the totality of the considerations, the court affirmed that a change of custody to the father was in the best interest of the child.

Consider your options carefully

Whether you are considering making a relocation request or attempting to prevent a spouse from relocating with your child, it is imperative that you consult with an attorney who can explain your options and guide you through the process. Seek an attorney with aggressive dedication to your best interests, who will thoroughly prepare your case and explore creative solutions to your situation.