UPDATE 4/19 - Act 907 was passed into law stating that Arkansas will adopt the Income Shares Model for child support by April 1, 2020. This is the child support model used by the vast majority of states. It accounts for the income of both the custodial and non-custodial parents as well as how many overnights the child has with each parent, including joint custody. The information below is left for historical information and context. We will continue to advocate for parents to be included in the child support committee and not just legal professionals.
One of the best things about our laws is that they can be amended if the need arises. However, if one law is changed, it may necessitate a change in another law so that they agree. Unfortunately, the laws surrounding child support in Arkansas have failed to keep up with each other, propagating unfairness and confusion in the system. Child support in Arkansas is determined by 3 main laws, each written by a different branch of government. These laws are Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, Arkansas Code 9-12-312, and Administrative Order 10. These are handed down by the federal legislature, state legislature, and state judiciary, respectively.
The current state of child support in Arkansas began with the Child Support Enforcement Act of 1984 and the Family Support Act of 1988 - both federal laws that amended Title IV-D of the Social Security Act. Among other things, they required the states to develop child support guidelines, create a rebuttable presumption that these guidelines are correct, and review the guidelines at least every 4 years. The state legislature then amended AR Code 9-12-312 to read "In determining a reasonable amount of child support, initially or upon review to be paid by the noncustodial parent, the court shall refer to the most recent revision of the family support chart" with a rebuttable presumption to follow the chart. It then states that a committee appointed by the Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice is to revise the chart and have it approved by the Supreme Court at least every 4 years. The child support guidelines created by this committee are contained in Administrative Order 10. The problem is that the order assumes a custodial-noncustodial arrangement and only gives guidelines for this situation. It is neither designed nor intended to apply to joint custody arrangements. In fact, the term "joint custody" appears only once in the entire order as a factor that "may warrant adjustments to the child support obligation."
As it stands today, there are no guidelines in Arkansas law regarding child support under a joint custody order. This should raise some concern since joint custody is now "favored" in Arkansas after the passage of Act 1156 in 2013. AR Code 9-13-101(b)(1)(A)(iv) states that child support under a joint custody order is to be issued at the discretion of the court either according to Administrative Order 10 or by deviating from the order. Simply put, a judge can order any amount he or she wants without restriction or need for justification. Uniform guidelines are needed so that child support under a joint custody order does not vary wildly depending on your county or judge. In cases where the parental income is similar, there is the potential to eliminate child support altogether, which can alleviate inappropriate threats from the payee and resentment from the payor. Guidelines mean a decreased likelihood of going to court, less to argue about in court, lower attorney fees, and less destruction of the parental relationship. Ignoring the need for guidelines perpetuates the adversarial approach of family law that is hurting our children.
We should all wonder how it is that Arkansas has absolutely no child support guidelines for its "favored" custody arrangement. It is time for our state to put its money where its mouth is and set child support guidelines in cases of joint custody. Arkansas Advocates for Parental Equality support the revision of the Arkansas Code and Administrative Order 10 to properly address child support under joint custody orders. Specifically, we request that:
Below you will find the names and business contact information (if available) for the members of the Arkansas Child Support Committee. This list can also be found here on the Arkansas courts website. These are the people responsible for revising Administrative Order 10. If you have an opinion, let them know.