Should I get DHS involved in my Arkansas Child Custody case?

This blog may sound like I’m bashing Arkansas DHS or suggesting that they don’t do their best to help in child custody emergencies. It’s not. DHS is very important; it just may not be the right fit for your own case.

We live (thankfully) in a time where we can usually depend on the government if there is a real emergency. If a tornado destroys your community, you can get help. If someone breaks into your house, you can get help. Most of us don’t have a lot of faith in the government, but it’s a relief that someone is there in an emergency situation. The police department or the fire department can come in and quickly diagnose the situation and make it safe again.


It is only natural, then, that one would want to get the government involved in a nasty child custody situation. If anything is an emergency, then it is a child’s welfare. In Arkansas, that part of the government would be the DCFS (Division of Children and Family Services), which is a branch of DHS (Department of Human Services).

Arkansas DHS is not like the police or fire department. DHS is like more like the taxman. If you have an accounting emergency, you do not want to call the IRS. Instead, you’ll want to call an accountant to fix the problem. The IRS will no doubt be able to help you with your accounting problem, but they’re probably not going to leave it at that. They’ll sniff around and start poking into anything and everything that they can. That’s their job.

DHS’s job is similar. They will investigate anyone and everyone associated with an Arkansas child custody situation. They will make quick judgments about who is a good parent and who is a bad parent because they just don’t have enough time. And they won’t leave you alone once the emergency is over. They have to stay involved, but they have way too many cases. This means that DHS is going to be super busy and super involved in the case. That is, they will have a lot of authority without a lot of information. They will do the best that they can, but that may not be very good.

There are child custody situations where DHS is absolutely necessary. If you know that a child has been abused, you should report it, and you’re not going to be able to avoid DHS. For the child custody situations where you do not need to involve Arkansas DHS, it may not be the best solution. Once you make that call, you are no longer in control.

In my experience, most Arkansas child custody situations are better handled without DHS involvement. If you want to protect your rights and make sure that the situation gets more attention, the best thing to do is to hire your own attorney.

Note: This might be a direct contact with a prospective client—a kind of legal advertisement. I don’t really think it is—you found me, after all—but it’s better to be safe than a sorry. If you have any problems with the information in this blog post or with me, here is some information you might find useful:


Family law for same-sex marriages

242925-gay-marriageTwo issues have pervaded the internet over the last week or so: gay marriage and the Confederate flag.

This blog’s about legal stuff; if I am the one doing the writing, it’s about family-law stuff. Because I am not aware of any important contributions that the Confederacy made to family law, I won’t comment on the flag issue.

But same-sex marriage—now that’s squarely in a family lawyer’s wheelhouse. Whether or not you agree with it, no one can deny that it is important. It is going to matter. Many things will now be different. Family law (divorce, child custody, and adoption for our purposes) was built around marriage, and now the definition of marriage is different.

Imagine how a personal injury lawyer would feel if the Supreme Court changed the definition of “negligence.” Or how a criminal lawyer would feel if it changed the definition of “intent.” I’m not alarmed, but I am intrigued—how will things be different now that same-sex marriage is the law in Arkansas?

I don’t know, and like all things legal, it’s going to take some time to figure out. Many issues (like the fact that a lot of the laws refer to “husband” and “wife”) aren’t really hard questions. We don’t need to think carefully about those things; we just need a word processor. Here are a couple of the harder ones:

A female same-sex couple is married and brings a child into the marriage. How will the law treat the non-biological parent?

It is well-settled Arkansas law that a child born during a marriage is presumed to be the child of the parties—mom and dad. You can rebut this presumption, but until you do, the law presumes that the husband is, in fact, the father.

In the situation described above, however, we know that the other party is not the father because, well, women can’t biologically be fathers. One party has been artificially inseminated (or simply had sex with a man) and had a child. We know that the non-biological-mother spouse isn’t biologically related to the child. What will the law do with the non-biological-parent spouse if, say, the parties happen to divorce?

I don’t know, but I think it will hinge on whether the presumption of parenthood is based on public policy or biology. If the presumption is based on public policy, then I think non-biological-parent spouse gets the presumption. We know that she’s not “really” a parent, but we will consider her a parent because we think people who are married and decide to bring a kid into the world are good candidates to raise the kid. We also think that the child deserves the benefit of the doubt as to legitimacy.

But if the presumption is based on biology—a child born to a husband and wife is probably biologically the father’s—then the presumption wouldn’t make sense for two women.

A female same-sex couple could get around this by adopting the child, but that places an additional burden on the parent(s) (both financial and legal) to get the adoption. (Interestingly, I also don’t think that the plain reading of Arkansas adoption statutes allows a same-sex couple to adopt a child together. So then there’s that.)

On the issue of challenging this: Marriage isn’t the only fundamental right; you’ve also got a fundamental right to parent. Does this gap in the law mess with that fundamental right? It would appear, on its face, to treat same-sex and opposite-sex couples differently. And that’s probably a constitutional no-no.

Another question:

Will courts give the same weight to a child’s interest in having two same-sex parents (mom and mom or dad and dad) that they have to two opposite-sex parents (mom and dad)?

In most custody situations, courts pretty much assume that it’s in a child’s best interest to have exposure to both parents. Children need a mom and a dad; that’s pretty uncontroversial. Lawyers argue this all the time, and it’s accepted as true unless one of the parents is not fit.

But do children need a mom and mom or dad and dad as much as they need a mom and dad? Put another way: If you’ve already got a mom, do you need another?

It may be that when courts in the past have articulated this need, they were simply expressing the present reality. They said “mom and dad” because that was the only possibility. Courts may simply prefer that children need two parents, regardless of their title or biology.

I don’t think these questions are necessarily new; after all, same-sex couple have been raising children for some time. But they aren’t esoteric anymore.

What is an Arkansas Probate?

The word “probate” comes from the Latin verb probare, which means “to try, test, prove, or examine.” (H/T to Wikipedia.)

This is important for two reasons. First, it illustrates that probate, much like Latin, is outdated and should never be your go-to solution. Also, the definition is spot-on: Probate will both try you and test your patience. Most people (justifiably) fail the test.


But what is it? Well, I am glad you asked. In the most simple terms, probate is asking a Court to allow someone else to do something with your stuff after you die. A quick example should help clarify: Leo has a bank account, a mortgage, and a car. While Leo is alive, he can do pretty much whatever he wants with his stuff. All he needs to do is sign. So, if he wants to close his bank account, all he has to do is sign. If he wants to sell his home or put someone else on the title, all he has to do is sign. Likewise, if he wants to put his new wife on the title to his car, he can do that through a signature.

Leo recently passed away in a boating accident. He can no longer sign his name to move his stuff around. If there’s no one who is authorized to do something with his stuff, it would probably just sit there until the rapture—perhaps longer. This is bad because we would rather see that money go toward creditors and college educations and other nice things that keep the economy strong. The Arkansas probate process makes sure that this doesn’t happen by appointing someone who has the authority to sign—again, the dead person can no longer sign. By doing this, the Court is giving that person permission to act like Leo and move stuff around.

There is much more to know about Arkansas probate, but everything else builds off that simple concept: Giving someone the authority to sign on behalf of a dead person.

But if you wanted to know more about the process itself or how to avoid it, then follow these links. Or you could just call us. The only thing worse than having to go through probate is having to go through it without a good Arkansas probate attorney.

Putting a face to the “plain language” debate

Lawyers should be servants. This is never easy. In fact, it’s usually pretty hard. The billed hour and the adversarial system and the looming cloud of malpractice does not naturally encourage us to be “others-centered.” We have to serve our clients, but we also have to serve the courts and, in some attenuated way, we have to serve justice. (I trust the conflicts of interest there are not lost on the reader.) And then we have to make living. No wonder the lawyer-servant is so rare.


I was reminded this week in a poignant way that one way to serve people is by drafting documents in plain language. You know, so the people who paid you (and for whom the documents were drafted) can actually make use of them. Yes, I know—it’s a radical idea. The debate over plain language is not a purely academic question, after all.

Prologue: One benefit of doing all this internet stuff is that people can actually find me—on the internet. Often these are the kind of people who don’t know anywhere else to look but the google. These are folks who don’t know a lawyer or don’t know anyone to ask. I am thankful for these people because they help me remember what it’s like to be on the other side, where the law is (unfortunately) shrouded in mystery.

On to the poignant experience: A woman found me on the internet this week and called to ask a question. She was wondering whether her new mother-in-law could take her daughter on vacation. (She was divorced and remarried and has custody of the daughter.)

The only way to answer the question, of course, was to look at the divorce decree and see if it addressed the situation. So, I asked her if she had a copy of it, to which she replied that she did. I asked her if it said anything about vacations or out-of-state trips.

Her reply: “I don’t know because I can’t read it. I only read on a fourth-grade reading level, and I don’t understand the words.”

Let that sink in.

After seeing a copy of the decree, I could understand her plight. It was full of nonsense—useless recitations, tired Latinisms, recycled garbage from a thousand decrees before. It was unclear on most of the things that matter and bulging at the seams with words that served no purpose. I’m sure the lawyer who drafted it felt very, very smart when he filed it. I hope so, anyway; he surely could not have walked away from the experience with the conviction that he was an effective lawyer.

If someone can’t read, that is one thing. But someone with a fourth-grade reading level should be able to read their divorce decree and understand it. (If not, I don’t think it’s a legally effective decree.  The people who need to rely on it don’t know what in the heck to do with it.) Fourth-graders, after all, can read things like Johnny Tremain, Beverly Cleary, and Judy Blume.

If someone can explain the dangers of silversmithing during the Revolutionary War to a fourth-grader, surely it’s reasonable that I can tell people where there stuff goes and what to do with their kids in an understandable way.

On Covenant Marriage

I wrote a post in April of last year about Covenant Marriage; my thoughts have not changed significantly. You can find it here.

Bob Clausen of Channel 4 recently chose to do a special on Covenant Marriage and, having found my post, decided to interview me. It was fun. There were a few fleeting moments of lucidity, but I definitely have a lot to learn about giving an interview. I look forward to more similar opportunities.


The interview will air tonight at the 10 o’clock spot.

Bob and I spoke for about 25 minutes and I expect you’ll only see me for about 30 seconds. (Again, this is not a bad thing!). But as those things go, I suspect that the interview will not reflect my thoughts in a comprehensive way.

So to make sure that I don’t end up “saying” something I didn’t mean to say, here is a brief outline of what I think about Covenant Marriage.

1. The importance of lifelong, healthy marriages cannot be overstated. People are (other things equal) healthier, more productive, and more responsible when they’re in a healthy marriage.

2. Working to figure out how to strengthen marriages is important work, regardless of one’s worldview or religion.

3. The State of Arkansas should do everything it can to strengthen marriage because it will materially benefit its citizens and make the state stronger.

4. The drive behind the enactment of the Covenant Marriage was a noble one—an attempt to use the legislative process to strengthen marriage.

5. Covenant Marriage’s place in our law is a positive one because it shows the State’s understanding of the importance of marriage and need to strengthen it.

6. Unfortunately, however, the practical benefit of Covenant Marriage is minimal. It is more likely to cause harm than good.

7. There are better ways to use the law to set more stringent parameters on your marriage. (Read here (or better, call) for more information on this.)

That’s what I think. If the interview ends up saying something else, this controls.

When Does Arkansas Child Support Stop?


This post is a simple and straightforward one, but I get this question all the time: “When does my Arkansas child support stop?”

child support

In Arkansas, a person’s child support obligation will stop “as a matter of law” (more on that in a second) when one of the following things happens:

  1.  The child turns 18 and is not enrolled in high school. (He or she has either graduated or dropped out when he or she turns 18.)
  2. The child is over 18 and graduates from high school. (Yes—even if your child goes to Harvard on a full scholarship at age 14, your child support will continue until he or she turns 18. Graduation only matters if the child is over 18.)
  3. The end of the school year after the child turns 19.
  4. The child is emancipated. (For more information on this, go here.)
  5. The child marries.
  6. The child dies.
  7. The child’s parents remarry.
  8. The child is adopted.

A few things to note: The termination of one’s child support does not magically erase past due child support (also known as “arrearages”). Also, if a Court has ordered you to pay additional child support past the normal time (like, for instance, to pay for a child’s college), then you’re on the hook.

Arkansas law says that your child support obligation will stop “as a matter of law,” but that’s a little deceiving. After one of the events listed above happens, it is the obligor’s (the person paying child support) duty to follow up. According to the Arkansas child support law, the obligor has to provide written notification to the following people:

1. The custodial parent,

2. The physical custodian (if this applies),

3. The clerk of the Court where payments are made,

4. Your employer (if your income is withheld to pay the child support), and

5. The Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE).

These letters must include the following items:

1. A copy of the most recent child support order,

2. The name and age of each child that you are seeking to terminate child support, and

3. The name and age of each child whose child support has already been terminated.

So I guess the child support law should actually say that the Arkansas child support will stop “as a matter of law”—and if you send out a bunch of detailed letters that you didn’t know you had to send. True story: I recently saw a case where a father had paid child support until the child was 24 simply because he had not taken the steps to stop it. And once that money has been paid out, it is gone forever. Yikes!

If you’ve got any other questions about stopping your child support (or questions about Arkansas child support in general), please call us.

How Does Interstate Child Custody Work in Arkansas?

The legal issues with child custody in Arkansas are usually pretty simple: Who’s the better parent? (As set forth in the magical “best interest of the child” standard.) No need to be a lawyer to understand that. Things can get a little tricky, however, when the child custody issues involve more than one state. This actually happens a lot. And because a lot of child custody battles do end up across state lines, there are two important laws in Arkansas that govern which court should hear the child custody matter: The UCCJEA and the PKPA.

The UCCJEA (it stands for Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act) is what’s called a “uniform” law. So, in this case, a bunch of people who are smart about child-custody-jurisdiction-stuff all get together and recommend to different states what they should adopt as their own laws. Sometimes this works; sometimes it doesn’t. In the case of the UCCJEA, though, it has worked beautifully: Every state (including Arkansas, of course) except for Massachusetts has adopted the UCCJEA, and it is in the process.


The main thing to know about the UCCJEA is that it puts the most weight on where a child’s “home state” is when making an initial decision about jurisdiction (The home state is basically where the child has lived with a parent or guardian for the six months before a lawsuit is filed.) The second most important thing to know about the UCCJEA is that once a state gets jurisdiction, it tends to keep it. The third most important thing to know about the UCCJEA is that its purpose is to reduce confusion and make sure that at least state has jurisdiction over a custody matter at all times. That is the “big picture” with the UCCJEA.

Once a court exercises jurisdiction, it may lose it under a couple of different circumstances. (We’ll use Arkansas as an example here.) For instance, if no one (neither the child nor either parent) lives in Arkansas, then Arkansas would lose jurisdiction of the case. That’s a pretty easy example. The harder case is when the custodial parent and the child live in another state but the non-custodial parent continues to live in Arkansas. In that case, you’ve got to prove that the child no longer has a substantial connection to Arkansas and there’s no longer evidence about him or her in Arkansas. That tends to be pretty hard to prove, and most courts don’t like to give up jurisdiction if they don’t have to.

There are two important takeaways from all this if you anticipate being involved in an interstate child custody situation:

  1. There is a significant strategic advantage to acting first, so you need someone looking at your situation immediately. And when I say immediately, I mean now.
  2. You need to find someone who understands the UCCJEA. Unfortunately, many family lawyers do not and won’t be thinking how they can use it to your strategic advantage.

Most child custody disputes never really resolve; if you’ve got a four-year old and an unpleasant ex-spouse, you should expect another fourteen years of lawyer fees, court costs, and frustration. Arkansas tends to be a fairly cheap and efficient place to fight these battles. The difference between Arkansas having jurisdiction and another state having jurisdiction might mean a difference of tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the situation.

That is, if you can keep your case in Arkansas, you’re probably better off. We can help with that—call us.

Is it Hard to Get Divorced in Arkansas?


Posts like this make me fondly remember the days when the Huffington Post actually had interesting things to say. (They don’t anymore.) The article is titled “The Five Best and Worst States for Getting a Divorce,” and while I’ll agree the title is interesting, that’s about all that’s interesting about it. According to the author, Arkansas tops the list of the hardest states in which to get a divorce.

Apparently the most important factor is the “Ease of Filing Score,” which is a combination of the length of residency required, separation requirement, and waiting period. Arkansas ranks the worst. Of particular interest is the “Minimum Total Processing Time,” which is 540 days. I have no idea what the 540 days are for; I don’t think any lawyer who took 540 days to get an Arkansas divorce would stay in business very long.

Anyway, as a service to the reading public and those who may trust HuffPo with divorce advice, here’s what it actually takes to get divorced in Arkansas:

  1. You (or your spouse) needs to have lived here for sixty days. (Yes, if your spouse lives here and you don’t, you can still file here.)
  2. You need $165 ($185 in Pulaski County if you’re an attorney) for a filing fee.
  3. You need to have grounds. (If you don’t want to bother with a separation, you can simply plead “general indignities.”)
  4. You have to wait thirty days after you file before the divorce is complete.

There are a few other things to worry about like proper service and getting a good, specific decree (stuff that’s best for a lawyer to do), but those aren’t too difficult, and they didn’t factor those things into the equation.

I do hate to see people get divorced, and sometimes I wish it was a more difficult process (although I don’t think it would do much to encourage people to try harder at marriage, unfortunately).

But it ain’t, especially in Arkansas.

How to Beat a Credit Card Lawsuit

Note: This blog has two purposes:

1.  I want you to give you interesting content that I have curated, digested, and then written about in a way that is engaging and understandable. My goal is both that you would be entertained and become more interested in the law.

2.  I want you to hire my firm to help you with your legal issue. 

So the blog is sort of a friendly boxing match. I give you (hopefully) good stuff—jab, jab, jab—and then every once in a while I’ll work in a right hook where I’m really gunning for your business. Today will be a right hook. Now, it’s not a haymaker—this information should be good and hit my “target”—but I’m still looking for your business. Just wanted you to know.

Now for the good stuff . . .


When someone doesn’t pay for something they’ve bought, that debt is often sold to a company that specializes in debt collection. This debt might be a credit card or car loan or motorcycle loan or anything. If the company can’t collect the debt itself, it hires a debt collection law firm to sue the debtor. There are several of these debt collection law firms in Arkansas; some are better than others.

The debt collection process is highly regulated—a debt collection company can’t just do whatever it wants. The most important regulation for debt collection firms is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which is both a federal law and an Arkansas law. It applies to suits over credit card debt.

In 2012, the Arkansas Supreme Court decided a case called LVNV Funding v. Nardi, where it basically reminded Arkansas debt collection firms that they have to have proof of the original debt before they sue. Because these debts have been sold, many times the original contract has been lost. No original contract = no lawsuit. (Courts have since decided that an Arkansas debt collection firm can amend or change their lawsuit if they later find the original document, but they usually can’t find it.)

Arkansas debt collection firms operate this way: They sue (on a credit card debt, for example), nobody answers, they get a default judgment on the debt because no one has answered, then they garnish someone’s wages with the default judgment. That’s it. It doesn’t matter if they actually have a case or have the original document because people usually don’t fight it.

That’s what we want to change. No one should ever just roll over in a debt collection lawsuit. At the very least, he or she needs to make sure that the Arkansas debt collector actually has the original contract. If the debt collector does have the original contract, it’s time to settle. If they don’t, the judge should dismiss the case.

If you (or someone you know, of course) has been sued by an Arkansas debt collection firm, please reach out to us. This is especially true if you’ve been sued and the time for filing an answer has elapsed—usually thirty days. You may not only be able to get out of the debt, but you may also be able to get damages under the FDCPA because the debt collector sued you improperly. The damages for every single communication that violates the FDCPA is $1000.

The debt collector may or may not have the original contract, but they usually don’t. Hire us to help you find out.