Understanding Arkansas’ Act 604 — and What It Means for Your Family

When it comes to child custody, Arkansas is now a 50-50 custody state. 

For those unfamiliar with it, 50-50 custody refers to the fact that joint custody must be the automatic default custody agreement

But what does this mean for new versus current custody arrangements? And what if it’s not in the child’s best interest to spend time with one of their parents? 

Let’s break down the ins and outs of the new Act 604 and what it means for your family. 

What is Act 604? 

Act 604 — also known as the new joint custody law — was enacted in the State of Arkansas in July of 2021. Under the new law, joint custody is the default arrangement for all new child custody orders. 

So, why did Arkansas pass this law? It’s under the general assumption that joint custody is usually in the child’s best interest. 

In turn, two things happen: 

  • The child can therefore spend equal time with both parents (since studies show that being raised with two parents is more beneficial than not)
  • Joint custody is the new assumed standard, which may allow for a more straightforward process when parents get divorced and need to address custody

Furthermore, Act 604 is split into three sections that break down its intentions (and exceptions to the rule). 

Section 1

Act 604 Section (a)(1)(A)(i) states that the award of child custody will be made without regard to the parents’ sexes but instead solely with the child’s best interests in mind. 

Section 2

Act 604 Section (a)(1)(A)(ii) states that when determining a child’s best interest, the court can consider the child’s preferences if the child has the mental capacity to reason. 

There is no age requirement for this decision in the State of Arkansas; instead, the court will decide based on the child’s wishes (given that the above conditions are met) and existing circumstances. 

Section 3

Section (a)(1)(A)(iii) states that in the event of a divorce, joint custody is favored — and therefore, the default — arrangement in the State of Arkansas. 

Does Act 604 Affect Current Child Custody Arrangements? 

Act 604 only affects child custody arrangements that occur after July 2021. Current child custody arrangements are unaffected. 

If the parents can’t agree on this arrangement, they will be ordered to mediation to resolve the dispute before the case is presented in the courtroom. 

When Act 604 Doesn’t Apply

One critical term that accompanies Act 604 is “clear and convincing evidence.” 

Clear and convincing evidence refers to the evidence that parents must establish if they want a different arrangement and/or don’t believe that joint custody is, in fact, in the best interest of the child. 

Clear and convincing evidence may include the following: 

  • The parent demonstrates a pattern of willfully creating conflict in an attempt to disrupt an existing agreement
  • The parent is abusive and dangerous, which may be proven through physical evidence (physical harm), testimonies (teachers, counselors, family), or written evidence (emails, texts) 

However, this is a high standard that’s hard to meet. If you believe that joint custody is not in your child’s best interest, then you’ll likely need expert legal help to make your case. 

What Does Act 604 Mean For the Family? 

Every situation is different, but previous custody laws favored mothers over fathers in most cases. 

Since Arkansas is now a 50-50 state, fathers have the chance to participate more in their child’s life. In turn, this also allows mothers to focus further on their careers. Children now get to see their parents equally, allowing them to establish healthy relationships with both. 

Parents may arrange schedules in whichever way is best for the child and works for the parents. For example, parents may switch custody every two days or weekly as long as the child spends an equal amount with both. 

Contact Hickey & Hull Law Partners

Whether you have questions about Act 604 or concerns about how it might affect your family, understanding the ins and outs of the bill can be confusing to the untrained eye. 

Luckily, that’s where Hickey & Hull Law Partners come in: With expertise in all-things familial related, our team can help you navigate this new arrangement and fight for your child’s safety. 
Fill out our online form for a free consultation, or contact us today for more information. Our River Valley office number is 479.434.2414, and our Northwest Arkansas number is 479.802.6560.