Success of Arkansas Equal Shared Parenting Bill

Success of Arkansas Equal Shared Parenting Bill

credit to Josh Jaros post within the shared parenting community

In July 2021, Arkansas passed a Equal Shared Parenting Bill and the following analysis in based off of the data provided to the shared parenting community by fellow member Josh Jaros.  The analysis requires examining the changes in domestic relations cases before and after the legislation. This data reflects filings from 2018 through early 2023, encompassing various case types, including child support, custody, and divorce with and without support.

Spoiler Alert: One of the key findings was the decrease in divorce filings, child custody and child support cases while parenting time disputes have stayed the same. 

Lets get into it:

Before the bill, Arkansas followed the traditional model that often favored one parent over the other in custody decisions. This approach frequently led to a higher incidence of child support cases, as one parent was typically designated the custodial parent and the other the non-custodial, obliged to pay support.

Post-enactment, there's a notable downward trend in child support filings. In 2018, there were 2,689 filings, which dropped to 1,499 in 2021 and continued to decrease to 1,444 by 2023. This decline suggests that with the establishment of presumed equal parenting, fewer parents are compelled to pursue child support adjustments because responsibilities are more evenly divided.

Custody cases also show a declining pattern from 861 in 2018 to 744 in 2023. The reduction indicates that the 50/50 bill may be curtailing the need for contentious custody battles, as equal sharing is becoming the norm rather than the exception.

Concurrently, filings for divorce with support have decreased significantly from 2,392 in 2018 to 1,091 in 2023. The trend suggests that the financial implications of divorce are potentially less severe with the new 50/50 custody standards, possibly because both parents remain financially responsible for their children post-divorce.

Contempt cases in domestic relations have fluctuated over the years but showed an uptick in 2022 with 71 cases, possibly reflecting a period of adjustment to the new custody law. However, it's important to note that these figures could be influenced by a variety of factors unrelated to the 50/50 custody bill.

Paternity and paternity/support cases have increased over the years, which could be attributed to a heightened awareness of legal rights and responsibilities regarding fatherhood, rather than a direct effect of the custody legislation.

Despite the overall decrease in custody and support cases, visitation disputes have not shown a significant change, hovering around 150 cases yearly. This consistency may imply that while the custody arrangement is equal, the logistics of visitation are still points of contention that may need addressing in future reforms.

The 50/50 custody bill seems to contribute to a shift toward more balanced parental responsibilities post-separation or divorce. However, these initial figures only provide a snapshot of the early effects. A more comprehensive analysis, considering a broader range of factors and a longer timeframe, will be essential to assess the full impact of the 50/50 custody standard in Arkansas.

Furthermore, while the legislation promotes equality, it is not a panacea for all the complexities involved in family law cases. Issues such as domestic violence, substance abuse, and other factors affecting a child's best interest still require the courts' careful consideration beyond the presumption of 50/50 custody.

The most interesting finding was the decrease in overall divorces, almost as if one removes custody and financial incentives, the desire to go at it alone, is also removed. 

In summary, the Arkansas 50/50 custody bill represents a significant shift toward more equitable parenting post-divorce or separation, as evidenced by the declining number of child support and custody case filings. It underscores the evolving recognition of the importance of both parents' active involvement in their children's lives. While promising, these changes necessitate ongoing evaluation to ensure that the best interests of children remain at the forefront of family law.

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