There is no greater issue in a divorce case involving children than those related to child custody and visitation. Children are almost always the parents' number one concern, and their well-being is always the tipping-point issue in any custody case.
When making decisions about child custody and visitation, the court's primary concern is the best interest of the child. There are a tremendous number of factors that play into the judge's decision regarding these issues - too many to list here. That being said, a judge is almost always going to try to keep the children's lives consistent - whatever has been going on is likely to keep going on.
Arkansas recognizes two types of child custody: primary custody and joint custody. When a judge makes a decision about custody, he or she is deciding which parent has the decision making power in a child's life. Primary custody means that one parent has the final decision making power for the major life decisions of a child. This parent is referred to as the "custodial parent," while the other parent is referred to as the "non-custodial parent."
Joint custody means that both parents are vested with the final decision making power in a child's life. In this case, both parents are deemed to be custodial parents. In divorce cases, both parents are on equal footing in terms of their gender. The Courts are not permitted to consider a parent's gender when determining custody.
Arkansas law has a different approach to custody cases when the parents are not married. In paternity cases (or any other cases involving unwed parents), the law gives the mother primary custody of the kid(s) until a court finds that it is in the kids' best interest to be placed in the custody of another. While the court must always first consider what is in a child's best interests, when the parents aren't married, mom gets a head start.
It is much more difficult to change a child custody order that is already in place than it is to establish child custody to begin with. To establish custody at the beginning of a divorce, paternity or other custody case, the parties must show only what is in the child's best interests. To later change custody, the parent who's asking for the change must show that there has been a material change in circumstances related to custody, so as to give the judge the authority to reopen a case and decide whether to make any changes. This is usually a very difficult task. We can help you decide whether your case meets the court's tough standards, and design a strategy that works towards achieving your goals and takes care of your family.
Child custody orders are so tough to change that they are almost always permanent. Make sure that you hire an attorney who can protect you and your family right from the beginning. Rhoads & Armstrong can help. Please call 479-254-0135 for a confidential consultation or connect with us via our online contact form.