Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Case Law Development: Change in Custody Based on Custodial Parent's Disrespect for Law

The Arkansas Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s denial of a change of custody and order of an increase in child support.  After their divorce, Father had primary custody of their child and Mother had been ordered to pay $25 a week in child support (on earnings of $272).  Mother alleged that Father had been physically and emotionally abusing the child and sought a change of custody.  Father counterclaimed for a visitation schedule.  The trial court found Mother’s claims were not supported and did not amount to a change in circumstances and sua sponte increased her child support to $63 a week.

The court of appeals did not question the trial court’s findings regarding Mother’s allegations of abuse but nonetheless found error in the trial court’s refusal to change custody based on Father’s relationship with legal authority.  Father had a series of criminal convictions for passing bad checks, driving on a suspended license, failing to pay fines in those cases as well as a contempt citation for failing to pay attorney’s fees ordered by the divorce decree.  “This evidence of repeated lawbreaking, together with the confrontational and disrespectful character of several remarks made by appellee as he testified at trial, leads us reluctantly to the conclusion that appellee has lost the willingness and ability to act as a proper role model for his seven-year-old son, and to teach him the need to afford due respect to the law and to others.”  Mother, on the other hand, had been paying twice the amount of child support ordered so that her child would have what he needed and had remarried and her husband was supportive of her request for custody.  Thus, the court of appeals held that mother should be granted custody.

Inmon v. Heinley, 2006 Ark. App. LEXIS 71 (January 25, 2006)
Opinion available on the web (last visited January 30, 2006 bgf)


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