The Arkansas legislature recently passed a new law concerning child custody arrangements. If you or someone you know has an impending divorce, and you have minor children, it’s a good idea to understand exactly what this new law entails, and how it will affect the court’s determination of your child custody arrangement.
What the new law does
This new joint custody law, known as Act 604 in the legislature, went into effect in July of 2021. Under the new law, joint custody is now the default custody arrangement for all child custody orders.
If one or both parents want a different arrangement – such as sole custody – they now have a higher standard to meet. Namely, they need to establish, through clear and convincing evidence, that joint custody is not in the best interest of the child.
Clear and convincing evidence is one of the law’s strictest standards, and it can be difficult to meet that standard in court. An example of a situation where the court likely wouldn’t order joint custody is if one spouse can show through clear evidence that the other is abusive or dangerous.
What this means for parents
When parents have joint custody, they share equal time with the child. They must follow a visitation schedule that allows as close to equal time as is possible in their situation. Typically, this means alternating weeks with the child.
They also have joint decision-making authority for all essential educational, medical, legal and other decisions. Both parents must work together to make these decisions, rather than one party having the exclusive authority.
It is still possible that the court will award one spouse a spousal support award, even if the ex-spouses have joint custody of the children. This is because spousal support is determined based on the spouses’ respective earning capacity, not on custody of the children.
Negotiating and litigating over child custody is often the most contentious part of divorce proceedings. By making joint custody the assumed standard, the Arkansas legislature has greatly simplified the process and ensured that, in most cases, the child will have equal access to both of their parents.