While child custody is ultimately decided in Arkansas by what is in the best interest of the child, it is only limited to parents. Unless there is a very unique exception, parents are the only ones who may have custody of their children. So, while both parents are alive, an Arkansas judge will decide which parents is best able to care for the child and make an appropriate custody decision, but when one parent dies, unless the other parent has lost his or her parental rights, he or she obtains custody.

This can be frightening for grandparents, especially if they have a bad relationship or no relationship with their grandchild’s other parent. If they had been a strong presence in their grandchild’s life, it may also be an exceptionally difficult transition for the child to have very little contact. After a recent out-of-state car crash, one set of great-grandparents are looking to change child custody laws to give grandparents expanded rights over their grandchildren, including custody.

What spurred this push for legislation was a car accident that claimed the life of a young boy. His great-grandparents had been helping to care for him as his mother attempted to turn her life around. After the couple’s granddaughter and their great-grandson’s mother died, custody automatically shifted to the boy’s father. The great-grandparents argued that the father was unfit to care for the child and believed him to be addicted to drugs.

While the great-grandparents were able to get some relief under a temporary stay, the father still received visitation time with the boy. It appears that it was during one of these visits that the father, allegedly driving while impaired, crashed his car, killing his son. His great-grandparents believe that if they had full custody, this tragic event never would have happened.

Source: The Daily News, “Great-grandparents: Changes to custody laws may have saved young crash victim,” Barbara LaBoe, April 24, 2013

If you would like to learn more about child custody and grandparents in Arkansas, please visit our Little Rock grandparents’ rights web page.