Bill Seeks To Put Arkansas Fathers And Mothers On Equal Footing In Custody Disputes

Legislation filed in Little Rock aims to do away with what parental equality advocates call "gender discrimination" when it comes to custody battles surrounding children born outside of marriage.

But when custody disputes involve children born out of wedlock, custody of those children are automatically assigned to the mother and in turn require fathers to jump through hoops just to establish basic parental rights.

Mary Anne Parsley, a grandmother from Conway, said she believes her son's fight to gain sole custody of his daughter would have ended years ago if state law didn't favor the mother.

Custody wasn't an issue to start with Parsley's son - in essence he was already his daughter's primary caregiver as the child's mother battled addiction problems. But Parsley's son wanted to make sole custody of his daughter official and petitioned the court to do so.

"That's when after a couple of court hearings they were referred to a mediator and the mediation resulted in this temporary custody," said Parsley.

Parsley's son has had temporary custody of his daughter going on almost five years now.

"The temporary custody being changed was contingent on the child's mother meeting some requirements," said Parsley. "Those requirements have not been met. So he still has custody of her, but it's still temporary."

"If there's a father that wants to be involved in their child's life - this bill seeks to put those fathers on an equal footing and have a fair playing field," said Rep. Jimmy Gazaway (R-Paragould).

Gazaway filed HB1486 last week, which aims to amend the law concerning the custody of children born out of wedlock. In cases where paternity has been established, fathers and mothers would be subject to the same custody laws that divorced parents are already subject to.

"It's 2019 and it's time we have laws that reflect equal rights for both mothers and fathers," said Gazaway.

If paternity hasn't been established, custody of a child would still go to the mother first, with the proposed legislation. The bill is due to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee sometime next week.

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