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How is Custody Decided?

Who is most likely to get custody when parents divorce? The answer might surprise you. Today, courts ask which parent is more likely to provide a safe, loving and stable home life for the child. They do not automatically grant custody to the mother, nor does one parent’s significantly higher income improve their odds with a judge.

Arkansas courts tend to prefer parents who can demonstrate their role as the child’s “primary caretaker,” a bond between a parent and child that increasing numbers of psychologists believe is critical to strong emotional health after a divorce.

So in addition to typical custody factors such mental and physical health of the parents, adjustment to school and community, and the ability of parents to provide a safe and stable home, judges also look closely at everyday life, including which parent does more of the following:

  • Helping with homework
  • Overseeing and carrying out bathing, grooming, and dressing
  • Making meals and food shopping
  • Taking the child to the doctor or dentist
  • Organizing and taking the child to extracurricular activities
  • Playing with and reading to the child
  • Interacting with the child’s school and teachers

The courts will also look closely at each parent’s personal habits. Does one parent smoke or drink excessively? Is there any history of violence, or excessive discipline or emotional abuse? Will the custodial parent allow and encourage a healthy emotional bond between the child and the other parent? In Arkansas, judges do not look kindly on “Maladaptive Gatekeeping,” where a custodial parent belittles or speaks negatively about the other parent to the child.

After reviewing these types of questions and many others, questions that have nothing to do with gender and little to do with income, the court will decide which parent is more likely to provide a healthy and safe home life for the child. Contrary to what many believe, the Court does not allow a child to choose which parent gets custody. The parent who is not granted custody is normally awarded visitation that follows the written guidelines published by each Court.