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Legislature Passes Bill Changing Custody Laws In Arkansas

Arkansas House

The Arkansas Legislature has passed a bill that would modify child custody laws in the state.

Under Senate Bill 18, which the Arkansas House passed by a vote of 71-16, when determining child custody in a matter of divorce or paternity, the rule would be changed to where there is a "rebuttable" presumption that joint custody would be in the “best interest of the child.” 

The legislation does list a series of circumstances where joint custody could be rebutted. That includes if the court finds clear and convincing evidence that joint custody would not be in the best interest of the child, such as an instance of domestic abuse committed by a parent or if one of the parties involved does not want joint custody.

Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, who presented the bill to the House, rebuked claims that this bill would "break" the current system in determining custody.

"The system is broken now. And there have been many a good parent because of the system that we have now, and children who have not had the benefit of having that good parent in their life. And that is a shame and a disgrace and it’s time that we change it," Gazaway said.  

Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, spoke against the legislation

"I’m gonna ask you to be mindful that joint custody is already preferred. To be mindful that judges every day make decisions in the best interest of the children and award fathers custody," Flowers said.

Flowers also said the bill could lead to "unprecedented ramifications," such as instances where a child may need to testify against parents accused of domestic abuse. 

Because the bill was amended in the House, it now goes back to the Senate, where if passed again, it will then go to the governor.

Sarah Kellogg was a Politics and Government reporter for KUAR from November 2018- August 2021.
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