parents arguing at small tableThis is the next post in my series about changing child custody in Little Rock, Arkansas. My last article provided an overview of the topics I will be discussing in this series. It also stressed the need to contact an attorney immediately if you wish to modify an existing custody order. An experienced family lawyer can review your case and advise you about your options to seek a modification. In this post, I will review the legal requirements that must be met in order to request a change to an existing order. If you need assistance, contact my office to speak with an attorney.

Many parents mistakenly believe that they can re-open a child custody case because they are unhappy with the arrangement or believe they are a more suitable caregiver than their counterpart. While Arkansas allows parents to go back to court after an initial child custody order has been issued, certain requirements must first be met. A parent may request that the court modify their current order if they can show two things. First, they must show that circumstances have significantly changed since the judge’s last ruling. This means that a new hearing cannot simply rehash the same facts that the court considered when issuing the current order. Second, the requesting parent must show that, as a result of the changed circumstances, it is now in the child’s best interests to alter the custody arrangement. When considering what is in the best interests of the child, the court will consider several factors. These often include considerations such as a parent’s ability to meet the child’s needs, any history of violence by either parent, the child’s wishes (depending upon their maturity level), and more.

When evaluating an alleged change in circumstances, the court will require that the change is significant before reconsidering the custody arrangement. For example, if the parent whose residence determines the child’s school district relocates out of the area and the child will be required to change schools, this change may be considered significant. If the requesting parent can demonstrate that such change would adversely impact the child’s education, extracurricular activities, or otherwise, this may constitute valid grounds to amend custody. More serious examples of changed circumstances include a parent’s use of illegal drugs, criminal activity, or abuse and neglect of the child. For obvious reasons, exposing the child to these situations would not likely be in their best interests. In comparison, a parent’s involvement with a new love interest (absent other extenuating factors) would not likely rise to the level of a significant change in circumstances in the view of the court. Whether the court modifies a custody order will depend upon the facts of each specific case.

As referenced above, there are multiple valid reasons for seeking to modify a custody order. It is important to understand, however, that initiating legal action for reasons that the court may view as insignificant or frivolous may negatively reflect upon the requesting parent. Not only may the judge view this as a waste of time and resources, but they may also interpret such action as failing to foster a meaningful relationship between the child and their co-parent. In serious cases, a court may even reduce the parental rights of the requesting party. It is imperative, therefore, to seek the advice of counsel before re-opening a custody issue. If you need assistance, contact my office to speak with a Little Rock family lawyer. In addition to Little Rock, I also handle matters in Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Springdale, Jonesboro, North Little Rock, Conway, Rogers, Pine Bluff, and throughout the rest of Arkansas.