How will a judge make a decision about custody?
The judge will try to make a custody arrangement that is in the child’s best interest. S/he will look at many factors to decide what that is.
If you are filing for custody, you should be able to show how the custody arrangement that you want is in your child’s best interest. You should also be prepared with as much information as possible about the other parent and yourself. This includes information on behavioral patterns and financial information.
If you are accusing the other parent - or someone he lives with - of abuse, you must provide the judge with evidence of the abuse. The judge has to decide that it is more likely than not that the violence took place to take it into consideration. S/he will also look at the abuser’s history of causing such injury, physical harm, assault or causing reasonable fear of injury, physical harm, and assault to another person. See Can a parent who committed violence get custody or visitation?
A judge may also look at a history of drug or alcohol abuse when determining the child's best interest. A judge may order drug testing for either or both parents.
The judge can also consider the preferences of the child if s/he is of a sufficient age and mental capacity to reasonably give a preference, regardless of child's chronological (actual) age.* However, a judge will look at other things, too, to determine what is in the child's best interest. There is no specific age when a child is mature enough -- judges look at that on a case-by-case basis.
Note: In an action for divorce, an award of joint custody is favored in Arkansas.**
* A.C.A. §§ 9-13-101; 9-13-108
** A.C.A. § 9-13-101(a)(1)(A)(iii)