Arkansas’s judicial code is more specific regarding custody than visitation issues. There are no state laws delineating exactly when a non-custodial parent can see his child, or for how long. Instead, the state vests a great deal of authority in its judges, allowing them to set visitation schedules on a case-by-case basis. However, most judges prefer not to do this. Instead, they typically use a standard visitation order, sometimes referred to as a visitation schedule, whenever parents cannot agree on a visitation routine themselves.
Determining the Non-Custodial Parent
Arkansas courts do not favor joint physical custody and judges will not order it unless parents specifically ask for it and can present a compelling case for how they’ll make it work. Similar to most states, Arkansas judges determine the custodial parent based on the best interests of the child. Judges may not base their decisions on a parent’s gender when deciding custody as part of a divorce litigation although different rules apply for unmarried parents. The law is vague about what a child's “best interests” are. Generally, judges consider which parent has historically spent the most time with the child; this avoids disrupting the child's life more than necessary post-divorce. Section 9-13-101 of the Arkansas Code Annotated allows a judge to take the child’s wishes into consideration, but he doesn’t necessarily have to abide by what the child wants.
The typical visitation schedule granted by Arkansas judges awards the non-custodial parent every other weekend with his child and one weeknight every week. Some judges will allow the weeknight visitation to be overnight during the week and not collapse it into weekend parenting time. Others confine the weeknight to evening hours wherein the child must be home by bedtime.
Holidays and Special Occasions
Unique rules apply to holidays and special occasions. These events supersede the regular schedule. For example, if Christmas falls on a Saturday, it doesn’t matter which parent’s weekend it is -- the Christmas schedule applies. Generally, Arkansas judges order parents to alternate Christmas on an every-other-year basis. Some courts will give the non-custodial parent Easter, Thanksgiving and Independence Day in odd-numbered years, and Memorial Day and Labor Day in even-numbered years. Judges often balance this schedule so the same parent does not have both Christmas and Thanksgiving in the same year. Dad gets Father’s Day and Mom gets Mother’s Day, regardless of whose weekend these holidays fall on. The child’s birthday may alternate between the parents yearly, or the non-custodial parent might receive a certain number of hours on the day after the child’s birthday every year.
Some circuit courts order six weeks in the summer for the non-custodial parent, either all in one stretch or broken up into two separate three-week segments. Generally, ample notice is required to the custodial parent regarding when the non-custodial parent wants to claim this time. In other judicial circuits, the non-custodial parent gets only 30 days during the child’s summer break from school, and this must occur in two separate 15-day periods. Judges invariably order plentiful telephone, email and text message contact, and they typically enjoin or prohibit parents from speaking badly about the other in the presence of their child. Some Arkansas judges forbid parents from cohabiting with another adult of the opposite sex unless they remarry. However, this generally means that the other adult cannot be present on the nights the non-custodial parent has his child.
- Rhine, Rhine & Young: Non-Custodial Parent Visitation
- Lawyers.com: Suggested Visitation Schedule – 4th Judicial District (PDF)
- Arkansas Law Review: The Not-So-Standard Visitation Order and a Proposal for Reform (PDF)
- Butler, Horn, Nye & Johnson: A Brief Overview of Child Custody in Arkansas
- The Wright Law Firm: Child Custody and Visitation
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