Arkansas courts consider the rights of both parents to equal degrees when looking at custody cases. However, when the parents were never married, the father may need to go through more steps to demonstrate that he is a parent before he can get those rights considered.

Child custody cases are rarely simple. Even when both parties can agree to what they think is best for the children, emotions and the desire of both parents to care for a child (but in different ways) can sometimes get in the way. Having a family law attorney on your side during child custody matters can help you fight for your rights while protecting the best interests of your children.

Find out more about how custody is handled in Arkansas if the parents were never married below, and learn how a lawyer can help with your case.

What Happens With Custody of a Child if the Parents Aren’t Married?

How custody is handled depends on whether or not the parents have established paternity. You can list the father on the birth certificate, but the father does not have any rights until an Arkansas Court enters an order declaring the father as the legal father. Both parents can sign an affidavit that establishes paternity — legally stating that the man is the father of the baby — at birth. This however is not enough the give the father legal rights. It is enough to let the father pay child support.

However, if no affidavit establishing paternity exists, legal custody automatically goes to the mother. In this case, the father would have to first establish paternity via a paternity action. Once the fathers files a paternity action and established he is the father (sometimes testimony is enough and sometimes a DNA test is used) and a Court enters an order declaring him the father, then he is legally the father.

After that determination is made, the court will award child custody and child support. That means that a father can’t be sued for child support if paternity isn’t established, ensuring fathers can assert their rights to visitation and custody if they are paying support.

Establishing Paternity Doesn’t Lead to Automatic Custody

Once paternity is established and a father asserts his rights legally for visitation or custody, it doesn’t necessarily lead to automatic shared custody. In all cases of child custody, the courts consider a variety of factors in ruling.

What Factors Do Arkansas Courts Consider in Determining Custody?

Courts aren’t looking at what the mom and dad want so much as they’re looking at the best interests of the child or children in the case.

Some of the factors they consider include:

  • Overall safety and physical support. If there has been a domestic abuse allegation against the mother or father or someone else in the home, that may be considered. The safety and security of each parent’s home and their ability to provide for the child’s basic needs, including privacy, sleep, food, and safe play and learning environments, within that space may be considered.
  • Supporting continued contact. Contact with both parents is typically important for children outside of cases that involve abuse or other serious dangers. Courts typically look at whether one or both of the parents will provide continued contact with the other. If one parent is unlikely to provide that, that can count against them in a custody battle.
  • Emotional and mental support and care. Judges in child custody cases look beyond whether someone can provide physically for children. Consideration is also given to whether parents will provide loving care and affection.
  • Keeping siblings together. The preference is typically to keep children together when it comes to custody, but every situation is unique. Courts will order custody agreements that don’t keep children together if it seems in the best interest of each child.
  • Children’s preferences. While judges can and do consider the preferences of children in a custody case, they aren’t required too. Judges may allow older children to say what their preferences are, though this typically occurs in private with neither parent present so as to keep pressure off the child and support ongoing familial relationships.

What Custody Arrangements Will a Court Approve in Arkansas?

Some family law courts in Arkansas start with a general custody schedule, and if there are no changes sought by the parents, that may be the custody arrangement that’s approved. For example, the Faulkner County has a published general child visitation schedule.

However, courts and judges are charged with protecting the best interests of children in child custody cases. That means they are likely to approve a custody arrangement that best protects those interests. Whether or not you were ever married, you may have to fight to get the custody situation that you think is best for your children. Hiring a lawyer for custody cases can help you do that.

Work With an Experienced Family Lawyer for Child Custody Cases

Reach out to wh Law today to make an appointment and find out how we can help with your child custody matter. We will help you come up with a legal strategy for presenting your case, draft and file the legal documents necessary, and represent your interests in hearings and court as necessary.