While parents struggle over custody and other major issues of divorce, their breakup's affect on their children can be overlooked. Several states mandate parenting classes for this reason, to help spouses focus on guiding their children through the divorce process and to prepare for parenting issues when the family is no longer intact. Arkansas offers this option, but classes aren't mandatory in every case. Judges can order parents to attend at any stage of the divorce if they think it might help.
Temporary Orders for Custody
Temporary hearings take place early in the Arkansas divorce process. When parents have moved into separate households, custody, visitation and child support issues must be addressed right away. Temporary orders issued at these hearings govern until the divorce is final. If parents can agree to a temporary arrangement, it's unlikely that a judge would order them to attend parenting classes. But, if there's a great deal of friction between parents, the judge has the option of ordering them to attend classes to help them come to terms about custody before the final divorce hearing. Attendance at this class would not affect the temporary custody arrangement -- the judge orders it because it usually can't wait until after the parents attend. The class is meant to help parents achieve a permanent custody order for implementation when the divorce is final.
If a judge orders you to attend a parenting class as part of your divorce process, Arkansas state law requires you to complete at least two hours of education. The course should focus on issues and problems unique to divorced parents, and the one you select must meet this and other requirements specified by the state. Online classes are available, and upon completion, the course provider issues you a certificate that you may be required to submit to the court.
If attending a parenting class doesn't help you and your spouse amicably agree to a parenting plan, an Arkansas judge also can order you to attend custody mediation. Both parents must meet with a third party, trained and certified by the Arkansas Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission. This mediator attempts to guide you toward reaching a final agreement regarding custody and visitation terms that will be incorporated in your decree.
Attorney Ad Litem Intervention
Some divorces are so acrimonious that neither a parenting class nor mediation can help spouses reach an agreement. If you can't resolve issues of custody and visitation on your own, a trial becomes necessary before you can divorce; a judge will decide custody terms for you. Arkansas courts rarely, if ever, order joint custody when parents are opposed to it. If you go to trial, one of you will end up with custody and the other will have visitation. When a custody dispute is particularly heated, Arkansas courts can appoint an attorney ad litem. This trained, neutral third party investigates your family and interviews you, your children, your children's teachers and physicians, and others. He then makes a custody recommendation to guide the judge's decision. Appointing an attorney ad litem is a last resort, one the court hopes to avert by sending you to a parenting class and mediation.