When an unmarried couple has a child, the mother is automatically deemed legal custody. In order for the father to seek custody of the child, paternity must be proven before the court will enter an order to obtain child support.
In Arkansas, child custody laws consider both parents equally. Many factors are taken in to consideration when deciding the best interests of the child, such as the following: (according to ARLegalServices.org):
Who will most likely provide continued contact with the other parent?
The judge is more likely to grant custody or visitation if you show that you can (and will) provide love, affection, and guidance for your child?
Has there been any abuse against a family member, not only a spouse or in front of a child?
Is the spouse requesting custody an honest person? Does the spouse have a caring attitude, stable work, and a good reputation? Does the spouse have a history of alcohol abuse, drug use, or a criminal record?
The judge may order home studies performed on the residence of each party, which can be expensive. The court may order each party to pay half of the cost of the home study. The court may consider a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend as a negative factor and may order both parties to avoid overnight guests of the opposite sex if the child is in the home.
The judge usually will want to know if you have money or other resources to provide for the child’s food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and other basic needs. However, the judge should not compare your financial condition to your spouse’s.
The judge may consider the child’s wishes, but the judge does not have to follow the request. Some judges will allow an older child to state a preference (often alone with the judge and without the parents’ presence), but others may not.
Maintaining Children Together
The judge will try to keep the children together with one parent instead of splitting them up. However, the judge may separate the children if it is in their best interest. The judge may allow the children visitation rights for one another.