Family Law in Arkansas

Across cultures and across the centuries, people have always depended on family for love and stability. For most of us, our family is the first place we look for help during difficult times. We expect them to be there when no one else will be.

And that is why there is conflict within every family, even the ones that look “perfect.” Because most of us reserve our deepest love for our family, we can be hurt the deepest by our family. There is no way around it—family members are going to hurt each other.

Family Law Child Custody and Support Arkansas

Child Support and Child Custody

Open

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. 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:

1. A “material change in circumstances” since the last child custody decision, and

2. That it would be in the children’s best interest to change child custody.

An Arkansas ourt 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.

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 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.

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.

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 THE 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.

x Close

Divorce and Legal Separation

Open

Overview of Divorce in Arkansas

We take your divorce seriously. Before thinking about divorce, it’s important to remember that there are two aspects to a marriage in Arkansas. One aspect of marriage is the promise that each person makes to the other—the solemn covenant that the parties have together. That doesn’t have anything to do with lawyers. But there is, of course, another aspect of a marriage: the legal relationship between the parties in the eyes of the State of Arkansas. That’s where the attorney comes in. And they’re important.

When a person comes in to talk to an Arkansas family lawyer, the marriage is often already “over” in the first sense. That is, one or more of the parties has broken his or her vows and “breached” the covenant that they entered into. There may still be a legal relationship between the parties that declares them to be husband and wife, but most of what really makes a marriage a marriage has already been dissolved.

A competent family attorney will be able to know if the parties have really ended their marriage. If not, the parties should consider legal separation as a temporary solution and pursue reconciliation. But if there’s no chance for getting back together, it’s probably a good idea to proceed with the steps to end the marriage in the eyes of the State of Arkansas. An Arkansas family lawyer can’t end a marriage; he or she is just responsible for making sure that the parties can walk away from the marriage with their rights intact.

 If divorce is the right option, you need to hire a good family law attorney.

What type of divorce is appropriate?

If the marriage has indeed ended, the next decision is what type of divorce to pursue. Under Arkansas law, there are two types of divorce: absolute divorce and divorce from bed and board.

Absolute Divorce

Absolute divorce is what we usually think of when we think about “divorce.” An absolute divorce ends the marriage permanently—in fact, in the eyes of the law it erases the marriage as though it never happened. In order to receive an absolute divorce, one party must be able to show adequate grounds to end the marriage.

Divorce from Bed and Board

Limited divorce is different from absolute divorce because it does not end the marriage. A couple who has received a limited divorce—or a divorce “from bed and board”—cannot remarry. They can still file their tax return together and the parties can still own property as “tenants by the entirety,” which is normally reserved only for married couples. Because the parties are still technically married, one spouse can include the other on a health insurance plan. There will be a property settlement agreement and agreements on child support and child custody. Like absolute divorce, one party must be able to show adequate legal grounds to end the marriage. A couple may choose this option because the stigma of divorce may be too great or may be prohibited for religious reasons.

Separate Maintenance

Separate maintenance is not really a divorce at all. Instead, it is simply an action where the parties are separated and one of the parties needs support. It does affect the legal status of the marriage.

x Close

Guardianship of Minors

Open

What is a Guardianship?

When one is given guardianship, a court grants a person temporary or permanent custody over a minor or otherwise incapacitated individual. A “guardian” is a person (or persons) who is appointed by the court to have the care and custody of the person, or estate, or both, of an “incapacitated” person.

What are some common reasons for Guardianship?

  • An adult who is impaired by reason of a disability, such as a mental illness, mental deficiency, or physical illness to the extent that he or she lacks sufficient understanding, or capacity to make or communicate decisions, to meet the essential requirements for his or her health, safety, or to manage his or her estate;
  • A minor whose parent(s) are impaired by reason of a disability, such as a mental illness, mental deficiency, or physical illness;
  • A minor whose parent(s) are incarcerated;
  • A minor whose parent(s) have passed away;
  • A minor whose parent(s) have abandoned him or her;
  • A minor whose parent(s) fail to properly care for the him or her;
  • A minor whose parent(s) are addicted, or who are chronically under the influence, of alcohol, drugs, or (misused) prescriptions medications; or
  • A minor when his or her parents consent to the guardianship.

 Who can be a Guardian in Arkansas?

Guardians are frequently related to the child, or incapacitated adult; however, a biological relationship is not a legal requirement.

In order to be a guardian in Arkansas, you must: (1) be a resident of the state of Arkansas; (2) be eighteen years of age; (3) be of sound mind; and (4) not be a convicted or unpardoned felon. A non-resident can be appointed as the guardian over an Arkansas resident but must be able to post bond.

Guardianship can be an important and powerful tool for making sure your loved ones are properly cared for.

x Close

Adoption

Open

The adoption process can be one of the most rewarding experiences for a family lawyer and the client. Ordinarily, a family is limited to those persons to whom we just happen to be related or marry. Adoption, however, allows us to have some control over who we get to call family. Family is more than just about blood. It is also about commitment and love. It is truly one of the most important times in the life of any family.

But for all the joy that adoptions can bring, they can also be one of a family’s most difficult experiences. Things often go wrong. And unfortunately, the process often falls through with no fault of the parties or the adoption attorney.

This is why a person who is thinking of an adoption must be careful about hiring a lawyer. It doesn’t matter if it is an agency adoption, single-parent adoption, step-parent adoption, grandparent adoption, or adult adoption. Everyone needs to find a competent attorney to offer guidance through the process. There are multiple reasons for this. First, the Arkansas adoption process is very specific. If you miss something, even something minor, it may delay or prevent the adoption.  A second reason to find a good Arkansas adoption attorney is because you need someone who knows you and can shepherd you through it.

Too often, an adoption attorney will seize upon a party’s weakness and use that to his or her advantage. This is common when a couple wants to adopt a newborn after an extended season of being unable to conceive. They often want a child so badly that they will listen to anyone who says that he or she can help. Again, this is why it’s so important to find the best Arkansas adoption attorney that you can.

At Wilson & Haubert, we are Arkansas adoption attorneys that are focused on the end game. That is, what’s best for your family? Our measure of success isn’t getting paid. On some occasions, we may help you decide that adoption is not best for you at this time. We are here to help walk you through the process. We want to make sure that your choice to extend your family tree is truly what’s best for you.

The most important thing to do is to be informed. We can help with that. Please contact us today if you have any questions about the adoption process. We understand both the law and the practical aspects of this process.

x Close

Attorney Ad Litem

Open

What is an Attorney Ad Litem?

An Arkansas Attorney Ad Litem represents children or other incapacitated persons in family law cases and guardianship cases when custody is an issue.  A circuit judge appoints an attorney to represent the child(ren) if he or she determines that an Attorney Ad Litem would be helpful.  Attorneys for the parents or parties of a custody case may also recommend that the judge appoint an Attorney Ad Litem. His or her job is to know all the facts and make a recommendation to the court about what placement would be in the client’s best interest.

What Does an Attorney Ad Litem Do?

An Arkansas Attorney Ad Litem represents the best interest of the child(ren) just like an ordinary lawyer.  A good Attorney Ad Litem will conduct thorough interviews and review all the court documents to get a good grasp of the case. He or she must understand the case and understand the needs of the children. This process is demanding.

An Attorney Ad Litem will need to consider all the following important factors:

Who am I representing?

Every child or incapacitated person in Arkansas is different. An Attorney Ad Litem must consider the client’s age, sex, health, special needs (if any), and preference before making a recommendation.

Is the party morally fit?

An Attorney Ad Litem must consider important factors like integrity, religious practice, compassion, empathy, sobriety, and honesty before making a recommendation.

Is the party stable?

Stability is important. An Attorney Ad Litem must know the party’s financial situation, work environment, community involvement, health, and relationship status to accurately predict whether the party is a good fit for placement.

Will the party care for the child?

Before recommending a party for placement, an Attorney Ad Litem must be convinced that the party is able to love and care for the child or incapacitated person.

What are the Attorney Ad Litem’s Qualifications?

An Attorney Ad Litem must first be a licensed Arkansas lawyer. He or she must also attend a yearly training session to better understand the needs of Arkansas children and the important role that he or she can play in ensuring that their voice is heard.

x Close

With all this potential for conflict, families often struggle with difficult legal issues. Many people think only of ugly divorces when they think about “family law”—the kind where the parties get into screaming matches over who gets the furniture. But a good family lawyer should always help minimize conflict and restore relationships when possible.

Family Law is about protecting what matters—your family. We serve Arkansas families by pursuing innovative, reconciliation-driven solutions to all their Family Law needs.

Practice Areas
Appeals
Bankruptcy
Business Law
Civil Disputes
Criminal Defense
Elder Law
Estate Planning
Probate & Estate Admin

Request a free consultation

Request a consultation