Back to the Basics Part 3: Child Custody & Support
I will wrap up this three-part series with some of the most commonly asked questions about child custody and child support. Decisions regarding these topics can seem daunting because the decisions you make regarding these topics will have life-altering decisions about your children’s daily life, future and financial stability.
If parents cannot agree on a child custody arrangement, then it will be up to the courts to decide what type of custodial arrangement is in the child’s best interest. If the courts must decide, the following will be considered:
- The stability of each parent,
- Each parent’s physical and mental health,
- The child’s physical and mental health, and
- The child’s relationships with siblings and extended family
The different types of custodial arrangements are:
- Joint legal custody – Both parents have equal decision-making power on the child’s behalf. However, this does not necessarily mean that the child will live with both parents equally; it merely means both parents are involved and have the ability to make decisions about the child.
- Physical custody – The parent that the child lives with the majority of the time. This parent is often referred to as the primary parent or the custodial parent.
- Joint physical custody – The child lives with both parents equally or as close to it as possible. A judge will not order joint custody against a parent’s wishes, but do not usually refuse to order it when divorcing parents request it.
The courts will always consider the preferences of the child, but the law doesn’t necessarily obligate judges to award custody specifically based upon the children’s wishes. If the courts determine it is not in the best interest of the child, then they will make their decision accordingly.
One thing is for certain, the courts do not look too kindly upon either parent attempting to estrange their children from the other parent, therefore, parenting patterns and actions throughout the divorce process are important as they are noticed and taken into consideration when the judge is making his or her final decision. If the court believes a parent is attempting to persuade a judge’s opinion of the other parent through false accusations, this could easily backfire on that parent.
I’ll finish with child support. Parents still have a legal obligation to financially support their children. In Arkansas, the non-custodial parent’s support obligation is calculated using the state’s Child Support Guidelines, which is based on a parent’s monthly income. Monthly income isn’t just a parent’s monthly salary, it includes any form of payment including monthly wages, commissions, bonuses, worker’s compensation benefits and interest. However, the following will be deducted:
- Federal and state income tax
- Withholding for Social Security, Medicare, and railroad retirement
- Medical insurance paid for dependent children, and
- Current court-ordered support payments paid for other dependents
Finally, the amount is calculated by using the current family support chart. The chart is based on bi-weekly, semi-monthly or weekly income. For example, based on the Weekly Family Support Chart, if the payor’s net weekly income is $1,000 his or her obligation for two children is $213 every week. An exception to the child support guideline is a rebuttable presumption if a judge finds the amounts to be unfair or inappropriate if the circumstances of a case give cause for a different amount. Additionally, the non-custodial parent is responsible for providing health insurance coverage or medical cash assistance as ordered by the court.
If a parent needs a modification of an existing child support order, he or she must prove an ongoing material change in circumstances. Typically, a court will deem a modification appropriate if there has been a loss or gain of 20 percent or more per month in the non-custodial parent’s income.
There is nothing more precious than your children and we at Kevin Hickey Law Partners treat all cases as such. Child custody proceedings are quite often the most stressful and emotionally trying aspects of the divorce process. We are here to help make this process as easy and stress-free as possible. We can assist you with all your family law needs. Call today.