Arkansas Legislature Modifies Child Custody Laws

In a major change to the child custody laws in Arkansas, the Arkansas Legislature recently modified the child custody to encourage judges to award parents equal time with their children when making an initial custody determination.

Child custody in Arkansas has always been premised on what is in the best interest of the minor child and under Act 604 of the 2021 Regular Session, which was signed into law on April 8, 2021, when a judge is making an initial child custody determination in a divorce or paternity case, there is now a rebuttable presumption that joint physical custody, or equal time with each parent, is in the best interest of the child. This change in the law applies specifically to initial custody determinations by a judge and not when attempting to change a previous custody determination.

This represents a major change in Arkansas custody laws because previously joint physical custody was only favored and the determination of what is in the best interest of the minor child was left solely with Arkansas judges.  Now, unless proven otherwise, it has been deemed by the Arkansas Legislature that joint custody is best for a minor child and should be the default when awarding custody.

Act 604 does identify circumstances where the joint custody presumption can be rebutted, specifically when court finds by clear and convincing evidence that joint custody is not in the best interest of the child, like when it has been established that one of the parents have engaged in a pattern of domestic abuse or is a sex offender; or when the parties have reached an agreement as to custody.

If a judge finds that the presumption has been rebutted, the judge must specifically state reasons why joint physical custody is not appropriate and attempt to maximum the amount of time each parent has with the child under the circumstances.

The full text of bill can be found here.


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