According to the CDC, 40.6% of all US births and 44.6% of Arkansas births are to unmarried parents. The numbers are even higher for minorities. In Arkansas, as in many states, the custody of children born outside of marriage is awarded solely to the mother, regardless of the circumstances. Specifically, Arkansas Code 9-10-113(a) states “When a child is born to an unmarried woman, legal custody of that child shall be in the woman giving birth to the child until the child reaches eighteen (18) years of age unless a court of competent jurisdiction enters an order placing the child in the custody of another party.” No distinction is made for cases of established paternity, prior parental involvement, or long-term cohabitating relationships. This is gender discrimination and has no place in our law. To make things worse, the remainder of the code puts fathers in an unfair position to obtain any parental rights. They first have to hire an attorney and petition the court, a very expensive endeavor that many simply can not afford. By the time the case makes it to court, which can be a year or more, a status quo has already been established where the child has been living solely with the mother. This puts the father at an even greater disadvantage. The law states that fathers then have to prove they are fit to raise the child and have assumed their parental responsibilities - neither of which the mother had to prove to be given 100% custody. It should be noted that the US Supreme Court has struck down similar laws in other states, starting with Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645 (1972), on the grounds that they violate the 14th Amendment allowing equal protection under the law.
This is not a statement about whether having a child outside of marriage is right or wrong. What we want is for our family legal system to accept the fact that almost half of all Arkansas children are born outside of marriage and these fathers are being discriminated against and having their rights violated. No matter the situation, the mother is just as unmarried as the father. However, the mother is being rewarded while the father is being punished. All the while, the “best interest of the child” is being ignored. Such laws create situations where fathers are being alienated from their children and unwillingly turned into "deadbeat dads."
Regarding custody and rights of unmarried parents, Arkansas Advocates for Parental Equality supports: