father laughing with daughter

Proposed House Bill 1486 – Gender Equality for Parents of Children Out of Wedlock – Pass or Fail?

Last year legislation was filed by Representative Jimmy Gazaway (R – Paragould) introducing House Bill 1486, which aimed to amend Arkansas law § 9-10-113 putting unwed Arkansas fathers and mothers on equal footing in custody disputes. When Gazaway introduced the bill, he is quoted as saying, “It’s 2019 and it’s time we have laws that reflect equal rights for both mothers and fathers.” Many parental equality advocates considered the law to discriminate based upon gender as it automatically gives custody of the child to the mother without considering the child’s best interest. The premise of the amendment is based upon the fact that custody disputes occurring during divorce proceedings the law awards custody based upon the best interest of the child without considering gender. When custody is requested by a father of a child out of wedlock it is very difficult for him to even establish basic parental rights. Unfortunately, the proposed bill did not pass.

As of today, Arkansas law 9-10-113 pertaining to the custody of a child born outside of marriage are as follows:

  • When a child is born to an unmarried woman, legal custody of that child is automatically given to the mother who gave birth to the child until the child reaches the age of 18 unless a court of competent jurisdiction enters an order placing the child in the custody of another party. A court of competent jurisdiction means a circuit court or family court within the state or a court or administrative agency of another state has jurisdiction and due legal authority to deal with the subject matter and enforcement.
  • If a biological father has established paternity in a court of competent jurisdiction, he may petition the court in the county where the child lives for custody of the child.
  • Under the following circumstances, the court may award custody to the biological father if:
    • He is a fit parent to raise the child
    • He has shown responsibility towards the child by providing care, supervision, protection, and financial support; and
    • It is in the best interest of the child to award custody to the biological father.
  • As with married couples that are divorcing, visitation is awarded in a similar fashion as to what is in the best interest of the child. If both parents are fit, the visitation guidelines set forth assure frequent and continuing contact of the child with both the mother and biological father.

Arkansas law 9-10-114 deals with paternal visitation rights. It states that when the paternity of a child is established, the court orders the father to pay child support, establish reasonable visitation rights and, if necessary, enforce those visitation rights.

There are exceptions to the above when the child was conceived out of rape. Arkansas law 9-10-121 is about the termination of certain parental rights for putative fathers convicted of rape.

  • All rights of a putative (generally known or supposed) father to custody, visitation, or other contact with a child conceived as a result of rape will be terminated immediately upon conviction of rape.
  • The biological mother can petition the court to reinstate the parental rights of the father if she chooses.
  • The father must pay child support.
  • The child is entitled to:
    • Child support.
    • Inheritance

Although there are specifics written into the law that support the biological father, it can be rather difficult for him to obtain custody. The fact that the proposed bill failed is proof that the courts still favor the biological mother in these types of custody issues. If you are the biological father of a child out of wedlock seeking custody, Kevin Hickey Law Partners can help. Cases like this require professional legal counsel to ensure the best possible court representation for the best outcome. Our professional legal staff can help you. We have years of experience when it comes to child custody issues. Schedule your consultation today.