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What Does Child Custody Mean in Arkansas

Type of Child Custody

Child custody refers to the legal responsibilities and rights concerning the care, control, and maintenance of a child. In Arkansas, like most other U.S. states, child custody is determined by what is in the “best interests of the child.” This is a legal standard that is used to make custody arrangements to ensure that the child’s health, safety, and overall well-being are prioritized.

Arkansas courts tend to approach child custody cases in a gender-neutral manner, focusing more on each parent’s ability to provide a safe, loving, and stable environment for the child. The court looks into factors such as the parents’ emotional and physical health, the child’s age and preferences, the child’s relationship with each parent, and the willingness of each parent to foster a healthy relationship between the child and the other parent. 

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Arkansas Child Custody Law Basics: Types of Child Custody in Arkansas

In Arkansas, child custody can be categorized into two main types: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody relates to where the child lives, while legal custody pertains to decision-making rights about important aspects of the child’s life, such as education, religion, and healthcare. These custody types can be awarded to one parent (sole custody) or shared by both parents (joint custody), depending on the court’s decision.

It’s important to note that child custody laws and standards can be complex and variable, and the exact implementation can differ from case to case.

What Does Legal Custody Mean in Arkansas?

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In Arkansas, legal custody is about who gets to make big decisions for a child’s upbringing. These can include decisions about schooling, religion, and healthcare. If a parent has legal custody, they have the right to make these decisions.

There are two types of legal custody: sole and joint. If one parent has sole legal custody, they’re the only one who gets to make these big decisions. But if parents have joint legal custody, they both have a say in these decisions.

Just like a team, parents with joint custody need to work together to decide what’s best for their child. If they can’t agree, they might need to go back to court to have a judge help decide.

In all cases, the court’s goal is to do what’s best for the child. This means they’ll look at many factors, like the child’s relationship with each parent, the health and stability of the child’s relationships with each parent, and the child’s own wishes if they’re old enough.

Remember, legal custody is different from physical custody, which is about where the child lives. A parent can have legal custody without having physical custody. This means they can help make big decisions for the child, even if the child doesn’t live with them all the time.

What Does Physical Custody Mean in Arkansas?

Physical custody in Arkansas refers to who the child lives with. It’s all about where the child’s “home base” is. If a parent has physical custody, it means that the child stays with that parent for most of the time.

Similar to legal custody, physical custody can be either sole or joint. Sole physical custody means that the child lives with one parent most of the time, and usually visits the other parent. On the other hand, joint physical custody means that the child spends significant time living with both parents.

It’s important to note that the parent with physical custody takes care of the child’s day-to-day needs. This includes things like making sure the child is fed, gets to school on time, and has clean clothes to wear.

The court decides physical custody based on what’s best for the child. They consider things like how old the child is, the child’s relationship with each parent, and each parent’s ability to take care of the child.

Also, remember that physical custody is different from legal custody. A parent might not have physical custody, meaning the child doesn’t live with them all the time, but they can still have legal custody, which allows them to make big decisions for the child.

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What are Supervised Visitation Rights in Arkansas?

Supervised visitation rights in Arkansas mean that a parent can visit with their child, but these visits need to be watched over by another adult. This adult can be someone chosen by the parents or appointed by the court, like a social worker. Sometimes, the visits might even happen at a special visitation center.

The courts in Arkansas might decide on supervised visitation for different reasons. The main goal is always to keep the child safe and comfortable. For instance, if a parent has had problems with drugs or alcohol abuse, or if there’s been abuse or neglect in the past, the court might order supervised visits.

Supervised visitation allows the child and the parent to spend time together, but in a way that ensures the child’s safety. This can be helpful in cases where the parent and child haven’t seen each other for a while, or if the parent is working on improving certain behaviors.

Even though these visits are supervised, the parent still gets to interact with their child, like playing games, reading, or simply chatting. The hope is that, over time, the parent can move towards unsupervised visits, and maybe even shared custody, as long as it’s in the child’s best interest.

Remember, the most important thing in any such child custody matters or situation is what’s best for the child. Arkansas courts always focus on the child’s safety and well-being when they make these decisions.

Can Custody Agreements be Modified or Changed Over Time?

Yes, child custody agreements can be changed or modified over time in Arkansas. As kids grow up, their needs and schedules can change. Because of this, the courts understand that the original custody agreement might not always fit the situation forever.

To change a custody agreement, usually one parent needs to go to court and ask for a modification, or change. They need to show that there has been a “material change in circumstances.” This means something big has changed since the last agreement.

This could be a lot of different things. Maybe one parent has moved, or their work schedule has changed. Maybe the child’s needs have changed, like they’ve started a new school or are dealing with a medical condition. Sometimes, the child might even ask for a change, if they’re old enough.

The court will always look at what’s in the best interest of the child when deciding whether to change a custody agreement. They’ll consider the child’s relationship with each parent, the stability of each parent’s home, the child’s wishes, and more.

It’s important to remember that any changes to a custody agreement should be made officially through the court. Even if both parents agree on a change, it should still be approved by the court to make sure it’s legally binding. This way, everyone is protected and knows what to expect.

What Different Custody Option are available in Arkansas?

In Arkansas, there are several different custody options that the courts can decide on, depending on what’s best for the child. Here are the main ones:

Sole Legal Custody

This means that one parent gets to make all the major decisions for the child, like those about schooling, healthcare, and religion. The other parent might still get to visit or spend time with the child, but they don’t have the same decision-making power. Just remember legal custody refers to decision making power.

Joint Legal Custody

In this case, both parents share the responsibility of making major decisions for the child. They have to work together and agree on things like where the child goes to school or what kind of emergency medical treatment or care they get.

In most situations in Arkansas courts the child’s parents will share joint legal custody.

Sole Physical Custody

With this option, the child lives with one parent most of the time. The other parent might have visitation rights, meaning they can spend time with the child, but the child’s main home is with the parent who has physical custody.

When on parent has sole custody, the custody arrangement typically is called primary physical custody with visitation rights. When a parent has sole physical custody, they typically have legal and physical custody.

It is normal when the custody arrangement is sole custody visitation rights that both parents have legal custody. It is typically primary physical custody and joint legal custody.

Joint Physical Custody:

Here, the child spends significant time living with both parents. It doesn’t have to be exactly 50/50, but the child should have a substantial amount of time at both homes.

Arkansas law favors joint custody for the parents. It is presumed that it is in the best interests of the child is preserved with a joint custody arrangement.

Supervised Visitation

In some cases, a parent might only be allowed to visit with the child under supervision of another adult. This could be because of past issues like abuse, neglect, mental illness or substance misuse.

No Contact

In rare cases, if a court decides it’s necessary for the child’s safety, a parent may be given no contact with the child. This is usually a last resort when there are serious concerns about substance abuse or the child’s well-being.

Each of these options is designed to fit different situations, and the court will choose the one that is in the child’s best interest. If circumstances change, the custody agreement can be modified over time to continue to meet the child’s needs.

When Do Judges Award Sole Custody?

Judges may award sole custody when it is determined to be in the best interest of the child. The “best interest” principle is a standard used in family law to make decisions about child custody and it’s always at the forefront of any judge’s mind when making these decisions.

Sole custody can be of two types: sole physical custody, where the child lives primarily with one parent and may have visitation with the other, and sole legal custody, where one parent has the exclusive right to make significant decisions about the child’s life such as education, healthcare, and religion.

There are several circumstances where a judge might decide to award sole custody: Abuse or Neglect, Substance Abuse, Absent Parent, Stability and Continuity, the ability to Co-Parent.

Remember, these decisions can be complex and are made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all of the circumstances related to the child’s well-being.

You can more about how a parent can lose custody under Arkansas Law here. 

How can parents work together to create a custody agreement that works for both of them?

Creating a custody agreement that works for both parents requires open communication, flexibility, and a focus on what’s best for the child. Here’s how parents can work together to develop a mutually agreeable plan:

Open Communication

Discuss your individual needs and limitations openly and honestly. Keep the conversations child-focused and leave personal issues aside.

Create a Routine

Design a regular schedule for the child to spend time with both parents. This should include who has the child on weekdays, weekends, holidays, and school breaks. Make sure it fits with the child’s schedule too, including school and extracurricular activities.

Plan for Changes

Life changes, so be prepared to make adjustments to your plan as needed. You could include rules for how to make changes in the future.

Include Details

Be clear on the responsibilities of each parent, including who will take care of things like doctor’s appointments, school drop-offs and pickups, and homework.

Be Flexible

While consistency is important for children, some flexibility is also needed. Try to be understanding when unexpected changes come up and work together to solve them.

Respect Each Other

Treat each other with respect and avoid negative comments about each other, especially in front of the child.

Seek Professional Help

If finding common ground is challenging, consider seeking the help of a mediator or family counselor. They can guide you through the process and help resolve any disagreements.

Legal Advice

Once you’ve worked out a plan, it’s a good idea to have it reviewed by a family law attorney to ensure it’s legally sound and all important details are included. After it’s approved by both parents, it should be submitted to the court.

You can use our online custody services to understand the law and draft all the documents you need to submit to the court.

Remember, the aim is to create an environment where your child feels secure and loved. The more cooperative and respectful the parents can be in the process, the easier it will be on the child.


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