Arkansas fathers have parental rights through the Arkansas laws on child support, child custody and visitation, divorce and paternity. Every legal father has a right to request court orders in his favor. While Arkansas automatically grants legal-father status to a mother's husband, an unmarried father must take extra steps to establish paternity before he can enforce his parental rights.
Rights From Legal Fatherhood
In Arkansas, a father does not automatically have legal rights unless he is married to the child's mother at the time of the child's birth. Husbands automatically get parental rights unless removed by court order, and can assert those rights in child custody or child support cases. However, before an Arkansas court can give parental rights to an unmarried father through a court order, he must establish the child's paternity, also known as legal fatherhood. An unmarried father with concerns regarding his future rights to a child can establish paternity by signing a notarized or witnessed Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity with the child's mother. If the mother will not cooperate to give parental rights to the father, he can request help from the Arkansas Office of Child Support Enforcement to open a paternity case, or hire an Arkansas lawyer to assist him.
Custody and Visitation Rights
Both parents have a right to request custody and visitation with their children through a paternity case or divorce case. Under Arkansas law, a court deciding child custody or visitation issues cannot favor the mother's rights over the rights of the father. Arkansas uses the "best interests of the child" standard, which means that the courts must review each parent's character, relationship with the child, home environment and financial resources to care for the child. A father who would like to share parenting privileges with the child's mother can request joint custody, which results in shared decision-making and time spent in both parents' homes. A father also has the right to request a court-ordered visitation schedule for time with his kids.
Child Support Rights
Arkansas fathers have rights under the state's child support laws, regardless of whether they are custodial or noncustodial parents. According to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, which oversees child support matters for the state's families, a father who has his children living with him can apply for services with the agency and request assistance in obtaining child support from the mother. For a noncustodial father, the agency cannot enforce child support unless a court has declared him to be the child's legal father in a paternity case, established child support as part of a divorce case or issued a separate order for child support.
Rights of Fathers in the Military
Arkansas dads serving in the U.S. military may have specific legal concerns, especially if planning for deployment. The Arkansas Legal Services Partnership collaborates with Stateside Legal to provide legal information for military servicemembers and military families. Military fathers currently serving overseas may be unable to attend court hearings in Arkansas for their child custody or child support cases. When fathers do not appear in court as scheduled, Arkansas law often allows the judge to make child-related decisions by default without their input. Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), a father may be able to request a 90-day postponement, as well as extensions to the original 90-day period, during which an Arkansas court cannot issue a default judgment against him.
- "Establishing Paternity"; Arkansas Legal Services Partnership; August 2005
- "Child Custody and Visitation"; Arkansas Legal Services Partnership; May 2007
- Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration: Apply for Services
- Arkansas Legal Services Partnership: Legal Help for Military Members, Veterans and Their Families
- Stateside Legal: Postponing a Lawsuit Against You
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