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Joint Custody The New Normal

Contributed by Victoria Bruton

Did you know that joint custody is and has been “favored” in the law for quite some time? In fact, that has been the statutory language since 2013, but this language has left many people wondering “what does that really mean?? Whether it be due to the uncertainty of that language or because of the idiom, it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, many courts have been slow to put this into practice with many courts being of the opinion that unless both parties wanted joint custody, that they would not award it in an initial custody decision in Arkansas.

Well times are really changing these days on this issue and not only is joint custody favored in the law, it is now becoming the rule versus it being the exception to the rule in the past.

There are couple of recent cases as well as new proposed legislation that are helping to shed some light on joint custody and the Court’s intentions moving forward.

In Chandler v. Chandler, 2021 Ark. App 42, the trial court awarded the parties joint custody despite mom’s testimony to the Court that she had always been the primary caregiver and that the parties’ were unable to cooperate as it related to the minor children. The Court, in a nutshell found that the issues in which mom testified to of being unable to cooperate with the dad on were not significant or insurmountable. In fact, the Court found that there were multiple cases that preceded this case in which the testimony regarding an inability to cooperate and communicate as it related to the minor children were more severe than the examples in this case and even in those cases, namely; Pace v. Pace, 2020 Ark. 108, 595 S.W. 3d 347 and Grimsley v. Drewyor, 2019 Ark. App. 218, 575 S.W. 3d 636, the Appellate Court found that the trial court had not erred by granting the parties’ joint custody.

In light of these recent cases, as well as the new legislation currently pending, it is clear that joint custody will be the new normal and that just because one parent has been a stay-at-home mom and the other the breadwinner, or just because one party creates unnecessary conflict with the other, or just because there is animosity and poor communication/cooperation between the parties, that will not and does not mean that the Court cannot award joint custody.

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