At the time of a divorce or legal separation, a court may make other determinations regarding the children of the marriage. Child custody, visitation and child support laws can be complex and vary from state to state. Here is an introduction to child custody and child support law in Arkansas.
Child Custody Basics
Arkansas once had a "tender years doctrine," which was a presumption that children under a certain age should remain with the mother in the event of separation or divorce. However, that presumption has been put aside and both mother and father begin a divorce action on a level playing field. The fundamental standard that the court uses when making custody decisions is based on the "best interest of the child.” In determining what is in the best interest of your child, the court considers the overall situation of your child and the current circumstances including the behavior of you and your ex. Among other factors, the court may consider what custody arrangement would assure the frequent and continuing contact of your child with both you and your ex, as well as which of you is more likely to allow your child frequent and continuing contact with the other parent. At a minimum, the child should have access to both parents, the residential status of the child should be stable and safe, and the child should have adequate access to basic necessities.
Child Custody-Related Issues
Other considerations when custody is an issue may include:
Visitation addresses a noncustodial parent’s rights to see a child. You and your ex have an opportunity during the course of the divorce to develop a visitation schedule. If you both can agree, a court will normally approve your agreement. If the court is asked to determine a visitation schedule, the court is free to develop any visitation schedule it determines to be in the interest of the noncustodial parent and in the best interest of your child. Most districts and judges have a standard visitation schedule that they award if there are no special circumstances. However, if special circumstances exist (such as one parent living in a different state or where the cost of transportation for visitation prohibits a normal schedule) a judge may deviate from a standard visitation schedule and develop a visitation schedule intended to best serve the interest of all. Visitation can be restricted and supervised if the safety and welfare of the child are in jeopardy.
Child support is basically determined by considering the needs of a child and the ability of the noncustodial parent to provide the support. Arkansas has taken this determination one step further in that the Arkansas Supreme Court has developed child support guidelines that are intended to take certain considerations in mind when determining a child support obligation. It is presumed that the guidelines will be followed unless the court can justify a deviation. Basically, the guidelines consider the income of the noncustodial spouse and the number of children on which the noncustodial spouse is obligated to pay support. Income for the purposes of determining support is any form of payment, periodic or otherwise, regardless of source, including:
The guidelines subtract proper deductions for federal and state income tax, FICA withholding, medical insurance paid on dependent children, and support being paid for other dependents. If a noncustodial spouse does not have a verifiable income, the court may guess as to the income for the purposes of establishing support.
Family law can be legally and emotionally complex, so you may find it helpful to discuss your case with an experienced family law attorney in Arkansas. You can also find more general information at FindLaw’s child custody and child support sections.
Contact a qualified attorney.