Who Has Custody of A Child if No Court Order is in Place?

As with almost every answer a lawyer will give you, the answer is going to depend on many different factors.

Mainly, the circumstances when the child was born and if the parties were married at the time of the child’s birth.  If the parties are married at the time of the child’s birth, then both parents have Joint Custody as well as equal rights regarding the child.

In Arkansas, if parents are unmarried and there is no court order regarding physical custody and legal custody, the mother is presumed to have sole custody of the child.

This means that she has the legal right to make decisions about the child’s upbringing and is entitled to primary physical custody of the child.  This is the case despite being on the birth certificate, that alone does not extend any rights to a child.

However, the father can seek to establish his parental rights through a legal process called a Paternity Action.

This can include filing a petition with the court to establish paternity and request custody or visitation rights.

The court will consider a variety of factors when making a decision about child custody matters, including the child’s best interest, the relationship between the child and each parent, and the ability of each parent to provide for the child’s needs.

To establish paternity in Arkansas, the father can sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity form with the mother or petition the court to establish paternity. DNA testing may be ordered to confirm paternity.

Once paternity is established, the father can then seek custody or visitation through the court. If the parents are able to reach an agreement on custody and visitation, the court will generally approve the custody agreement as long as it is in the child’s best interests.

In cases where the parents are unable to agree on custody and visitation, the court will make a determination based on the child’s best interests.

The court may consider other factors, such as the child’s relationship with each parent, the ability of each parent to provide for the child’s needs, and any history of domestic violence or substance abuse.

While Arkansas does not presume joint custody for unmarried parents without a court order, the father can seek to establish his parental rights through a legal process. Establishing paternity is the first step, and then the father can seek custody or visitation rights through the court.

It is important for both parents to work together and prioritize the best interests of both you and the best interest of the child when making decisions about custody and visitation.

Custody in Arkansas When You are Married at the Time of the Child’s Birth

In Arkansas, if there is no court order and the parents are married at the time the child is born, the parents have what is called “joint custody by default.”

This means that both parents have equal rights to the child and are responsible for making decisions regarding their care and upbringing. This includes decisions about education, healthcare, and religion.

However, joint custody by default does not necessarily mean that the child will split their time equally between the parents.

In fact, if the parents cannot come to an agreement on a custody arrangement and visitation, the court may step in and make a determination based on what is in the best interests of the child.

Factors that the court may consider when making this determination include:

1.         The child’s age and needs.

2.         The relationship between the child and each parent.

3.         The mental and physical health of the children and each parent.

4.         The ability of each parent to provide for the child’s needs.

5.         The geographic proximity of the parents’ homes.

6.         The child’s preference, if they are old enough to express it.

It’s important to note that even if one parent has physical custody of the child, both parents still have joint legal custody, and a say in major decisions affecting the child’s life.

Enforcing a Child Custody Order

Once a custody order is established, both parents are legally bound to follow the terms of the order. If one parent does not comply with the custody order itself, the other parent may seek enforcement through the court system.

If a parent refuses to comply with a custody or visitation order, the other parent may file a motion for contempt with the court. The court may then issue a warrant for the non-complying parent’s arrest or impose other sanctions, such as fines or community service.

Tips for Navigating Legal Custody Issues

Navigating child custody issues as an unmarried parent can be complex and emotional. However, there are steps that parents can take to protect their rights and ensure the best interests of their child are served.

1.         Work with an experienced family law attorney: An attorney can help parents navigate the legal system and represent their interests in court. An attorney can also help parents understand their legal rights and obligations as parents.

2.         Be willing to compromise: Custody and visitation arrangements are more likely to be successful when both parents are willing to compromise and work together. Parents should focus on the best interests of the child and be willing to make sacrifices to ensure