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Child custody considerations for Arkansas parents

When parents choose to separate, the care and support of the couple's child or children is a priority. Child custody decisions must be addressed at the time a couple divorces. Neither gender has a legal "edge" when it comes to child custody, despite assumptions that mothers are default custodians.

During an Arkansas divorce, a child born during a couple's marriage is assumed to be the spouses' child. An unmarried mother automatically receives legal custody. Paternity tests can impact child custody and support decisions.

Joint custody has become a common arrangement between parents in modern times. This order can be interpreted literally, meaning a child resides with both parents in different homes at different times. Joint custody also applies to shared decision-making rights.

Some Arkansas parents disagree on custody matters and turn to a judge for answers. The resolution of a contested custody case ultimately depends upon the best interests of the child. In some circumstances, a judge will appoint a lawyer to represent the minor child's interests.

Judges want parents to cooperate. The parent most likely to encourage continued child contact with the other parent has an advantage. A court wants to know whether a parent has the character, attitude and financial means suitable for a primary caregiver.

Red flags include a history of substance abuse, crime or domestic violence. Even a live-in partner may be seen as an unfavorable influence. Judges may consider, but are not bound by, a child's custody preference.

Visitation privileges are awarded to non-custodial parents, which may be flexible if parents are cooperative. When that's not possible, a structured schedule of visits is made. Visitations cannot be used as leverage in disputes over child support.

Speak with an attorney if you have custody concerns during divorce or think a modification of custody terms is needed. Whatever custody arrangement you now have is enforceable unless a court approves a change.

Source: Arkansas Legal Services Partnership, "Child Custody and Visitation" accessed Jan. 23, 2015

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