Child Support and Child Custody
Question 1: So Who Gets Child Custody?
The world of child custody is pretty simple in Arkansas: The judge will make the decision about child custody based upon the best interest of the child(ren). A judge might have to make a decision about custody in a divorce, paternity, or, in some sense, guardianship matter.
The best interest of the child means exactly what it sounds like. Click here for a video about the “best interest of the child.” The judge can look at any factor he or she thinks is important. Arkansas judges obviously differ, but there are a few factors that are most important:
- The child’s preference about custody;
- The home environments of parents;
- The parent’s work schedules;
- The financial resources available to each parent;
- Whether the siblings of the child reside with the parent;
- The character of the parents;
- Whether a parent alienates the child from the other parent, or whether a parent facilitates frequent contact with the other parent;
- The respective caring roles of each parent (for example, who takes the child to doctor’s appointments, feeds the child, helps the child with his or her homework, etc.); and
- Whether there have been any addiction, drug use, misconduct, neglect, or abuse allegation against a parent.
This list is not exhaustive, but it gives some insight into child custody decisions. Arkansas judges see child custody disputes all the time, and most family law judges pick up a sort of “sixth sense” about child custody—they can often tell who is lying, and they can tell who is telling the truth. Although “the best interest of the child” is a vague standard, it is vague for a reason: Arkansas judges need to be free to go with their instinct because it’s the best way we have to make a good decision about child custody.
Question 2: How Can I Change Child Custody?
In legal terms, this is called a “modification of child custody.” In order to modify your current child custody arrangement, you must be able to show two things:
- A “material change in circumstances” since the last child custody decision, and
- That it would be in the children’s best interest to change child custody.
An Arkansas court doesn’t want to second-guess itself. Even if it made a bad decision last time, the Court is going to stick with its previous decision about child custody unless you can show that the situation has changed in a meaningful way.
This is why it’s important to hire a good Arkansas child custody lawyer as soon as you can. Once a decision has been made about child custody, it’s harder to modify it.
Judges aren’t perfect, but they are pretty good about knowing what custody arrangement is in a child’s best interest. If you want custody of your kid(s), create an environment where a child would flourish. A judge will be able to see that. And do it the first time the judge sees you.
Types of Custody
Joint Custody – Overview
There are two types of joint custody in Arkansas: joint legal custody and joint physical custody.
Joint Legal Custody allows both parents to have equal decision-making power with the child. That is, no one parent has final authority to make decisions for the child. Instead, both parents share this responsibility. This type of Joint Custody is common in Arkansas.
Joint Physical Custody allows both parents roughly equal time with the child. This type of Joint Custody has been “disfavored” in Arkansas until 2013, when the law changed. Arkansas law now “favors” this type of joint custody, meaning that it is a real possibility that a judge would order this type of Joint Custody. Most judges have strong feelings on the subject.
Because most people are talking about “joint physical custody” when they say “joint custody,” this page will use those terms interchangeably.
Is Joint Custody a Good Idea?
Although Joint Custody is now favored in Arkansas, that does not necessarily mean that it is a good idea. Before a judge will grant Joint Physical Custody, he or she must be persuaded that the parties are willing to work together.
There is sharp disagreement among Arkansas judges on this issue. Some judges will order Joint Custody even if the parties aren’t cooperative. For these judges, awarding Joint Custody is a way to force the parties to work together for the best interest of the child. Some judges, however, are very careful about awarding Joint Custody. They must be convinced that the parties are willing to work together. This is one of the reasons it is so important to hire an experienced Arkansas Joint Custody attorney—the only way to predict the way a judge will rule is to know his or her reputation, which is something you get from practicing in family law courts.
Primary Physical Custody
This is where one parent (the custodial parent) has the child most of the time and the other parent gets visitation. The typical arrangement for this is the custodial parent has the child and the non-custodial parent has visitation. The standard visitation schedule is every other weekend, maybe one night a week, and extended summer visitation. Summer visitation typically is 2 to 6 weeks at a time.
What about Child Support?
If you are not the “custodial parent”—meaning you don’t have custody of the child—you are going to have to pay child support in Arkansas.
How is Child Support Calculated?
All the judges in Arkansas use the same chart to determine child support: Administrative Order No. 10.
The chart gives a specific amount for child support based upon how much money you make. And this is pretty much the end of the discussion unless you’ve got a good reason for the judge to do something different.
Also, in some cases a judge may order back child support.
Where do I make my Child Support Payments?
The Office of Child Support Enforcement will take the money right out of your check if it can. If not, you will be responsible for paying through the Arkansas Child Support Clearinghouse, which is just the office set up to receive child support payments.
Dealing with Arkansas OCSE is a giant pain and is one of the significant benefits of hiring a good family lawyer—they are much more likely to pay attention to an attorney.
How can I change Child Support Payments?
This is sort of like child custody—an Arkansas Court won’t change the non-custodial parent’s child support payments unless there has been a “material change in income.” Courts call this a “modification of child support.” Arkansas law says that a change of 20% or $100 is a “material” change that will allow a modification of child support payments. If you want to modify child support payments, you need to hire a family lawyer who can ask the court to change child support.
If your income goes down and you should be paying less child support, it’s important to hire an attorney quickly. Arkansas courts doesn’t care when your income changed; it will only change your payments if you ask it to. It’s the same if the other party is making more money. The Court won’t make them pay more until you bring it up.
As a family law firm in North Little Rock, we’ve got you covered!