Arkansas law levels the playing field in child custody cases

KNWA

"This is the highest burden of proof we have."

NORTHWEST, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A new law in Arkansas makes it easier for separated parents to get joint custody of their kids.

ACT 604 is the new joint custody law in Arkansas, which tells the judge — joint custody must be ordered in every new family law case unless there is “clear and convincing” evidence that it is not in the best interests of the child.

Clear and convincing is a very high standard. You would have to have some really strong evidence that it is not in the best interest of the child in order to overcome that.

LESLIE COPELAND, FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY

Family Law Attorney Leslie Copeland said joint custody means that the parents spend equal time with the child and have joint legal decision-making.

“This means that they have to confer and agree on all major decisions involving the child,” she said. “This might involve the choice of school, extra-curricular activities, or medical decisions.”

She said if the parents can’t agree, then they will be ordered to go to mediation to try and resolve the dispute before the judge will get involved.

Joint custody can be a win-win situation for the parents and the child if the parents can cooperate, communicate, and co-parent.

LESLIE COPELAND, FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY

Copeland said this new law has its benefits, such as:

  • For dads — she said in a traditional custody situation, it allows them to spend more time with their children and have more responsibility in their kids’ day-to-day activities.
  • For moms — she said it gives them more time to work and increases their economic opportunities while providing them with more support in caring for the children.
  • For the kids —she said it allows them to have equal time with each parent, which gives them the best of both works.

The research shows that the key factor in producing positive long-term outcomes for kids is the cooperation of the parents.

LESLIE COPELAND, FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY

Copeland said there is a downside, though.

“This is attempting to be a one size fits all solution for all families and all children,” she said. “It’s not always appropriate for parents to make decisions together, especially if there is a power imbalance or if they simply can’t get along.”

My interest in involvement is because the system overall treats fathers as unimportant.

SEN. ALAN CLARK, LEAD SPONSOR

Lead Sponsor Sen. Alan Clark said ACT 604 doesn’t mean joint custody is always the solution.

“We threaded the needle very well, it requires clear and convincing evidence,” he said. “We certainly don’t want a parent who’s physically or sexually abusive being forced into the mix.”

He said the legislation is looking out for the child’s best interest.

“We will have better outcomes for a majority of cases than what we’ve previously had if the law is followed,” Sen. Clark said.

Which is exactly Copeland’s hope.

Joint custody is hard, but it is the best situation for the kid if the parents can get along!

LESLIE COPELAND, FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY

Under this new law, Sen. Clark said if a parent does not want a relationship with the child, they do not have to participate in joint custody.

Copeland said a common misconception people have about joint custody is that parents don’t have to pay child support. She said one parent may still have to pay child support even in a joint custody situation if the incomes of the parties are not equal.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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