Even though it was years ago, I can still remember the feeling when I left the courtroom that day.  The air had been taken completely out of me.  I couldn’t believe what had just happened.  Was that really a court of law I had just been in?  It was supposed to be but what had just happened was more like a robbery.  My client?  Well, she was devastated.  This was an early hearing in the process so we still had plenty of time to fight.  But the tone had clearly been set.

We had just finished in DHS/CPS court, and you know what I am talking about if you have been there.  This was about my fifth DHS/CPS case and to be honest I was about to be finished with these cases altogether.  I had noticed an obvious pattern - frustration for the client and me was the norm.  And DHS/CPS got whatever they wanted.  Discovery rules didn’t seem to apply.  Everything, and I mean everything, was stacked in the favor of DHS/CPS.  The judge believed everything the State had to say and nothing my client had to say.  Worse, the judge cut us off anytime we tried to introduce helpful evidence.  In a word, we felt railroaded.  This is not to mention how bad it was for the poor souls who were there pro se (without an attorney and representing themselves).

DHS/CPS court is relentless.  It drags on for months sometimes years.  There are staffings that you have to attend; hearings that you have to attend; home inspections that you have to attend; drug tests you have to take – and then take again; classes you have to attend; counseling you have to attend.  The list is exhausting.  If your children are in DHS/CPS custody they may not even be living in the same city as you.  You might have to travel across the state just to get visitation.  How in the world is a hard-working parent supposed to keep a steady job and get all of this stuff completed?

I decided that day after court that if I was going to keep taking these cases then we had to figure out how to win them.  These cases are a different breed and most attorneys don’t want anything to do with them.  We were going to have to have a completely different approach and be just as relentless as the system if we were going to stand a chance.

That decision that day has made all the difference.  We still have our challenges in DHS/CPS court, but now we know how to handle them – and win them.  And we can do the same for you.  So if you’re tired of trying to fight your case on your own, or you’re just getting started, give us a call.  We know the struggle…and we’re ready to help you put your family back together.

Cross Examination

CPS & DHS Stories

Changing Child Custody After Divorce...

One thing is for certain, there is never anything certain in life. You have agreed on your child custody arrangement and things have moved along just fine until an unforeseen event occurs in your life. Life events like moving out of state, one parent becomes extremely ill or the financial situation changes for a parent, plus many, many more life-altering reasons are all reasons that life interrupts you normal routine and a new child custody agreement will need to be reached. Generally, child custody cases are never final. If both parents agree to a new custody agreement and the courts find it reasonable, then it is normally approved IF it is in the best interest of the child. The best interest of the child always controls. The courts do not care much about what is convenient for the parents if the child’s best interest isn’t first and foremost. Additionally, there are times that changing child custody agreements are not wrapped with a pretty bow and everyone is happy. Some circumstances change that are actually harming the child to stay in the current custody arrangement—a parent becomes abusive, substance abuse enters the picture, poor lifestyle choices, the list goes on and on. During these times, it is important to meet with your attorney and get things moving along as quickly as possible to avoid further physical or mental harm to your child. One particular case, Stephanie Harris, Appellant v. Stephen Harris, Appellee (No. CA09-639, decided February 17, 2010) determined the children’s best interest was to change the custody arrangement to the appellee “who offered them hope of academic and behavioral improvement and whom the court found much more credible than appellant regarding efforts to deal with the girls ‘dismal performance.’” The court found “compelling evidence” that the minor children would be in a much better situation in Mr. Harris’ custody rather than Ms. Harris’. Although the ultimate victor in this party had overwhelming evidence and multiple occasions of blatant disregard for the initial custody agreement by the appellant, it still took the course of a nearly two-year court battle for him to convince the court he was the better custodial parent. This case further proves that the courts do not take their duty of determining the best interest of the child lightly. In cases such as this one when parents cannot agree, some of the things a judge will consider are: each parent’s stability each parent’s physical and mental health the child’s physical and mental health the child’s relationship with siblings and extended family The judge will consider many other factors. In the case mentioned, the courts considered the following: the children’s failing grades in school; the children’s behavior problems in school; consistent interference in visitation by Ms. Harris; Harris’ failure to show up for a show-cause hearing in 2005; Harris was remarried and had a loving, stable environment to provide the children; Harris had stable employment; Harris maintained constant email communication with the children’s school while they were living in Atlanta with their mother; Harris allowed different male companions to spend the night at her home when the minor children were present violating the divorce decree; Harris failed to follow the decree’s allowance for unrestricted phone calls by Mr. Harris on a daily basis. The list goes on and proving what Ms. Harris did wrong and Mr. Harris did right. The point is that you must at all times consider the best interest of your children, because the court will. Parents who are able to amicably reach an agreement on their own, can simply submit a custody agreement (also called a ‘parenting plan’) to the court. Again, the judge will ensure the agreement reflects the best interest of the child. Be sure to check out next week’s blog about writing a successful parenting plan. Child custody arrangements (even the “easy” ones) are complex and more often than not require an attorney to draw up the paperwork. If you are in need of modifying your child custody agreement, contact Kevin Hickey Law Partners today.

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Making Your Custody Case...

Everyone understands that the divorce process causes emotions to run high and people often act out of character by reacting irrationally. These irrational reactions and behaviors can have a detrimental effect on your custody case. The court will evaluate your behavior in its entirety throughout the proceedings when determining custody. To begin when determining the placement of a child, the best interest of the child is always considered. For more details on the criteria the courts consider, see our past blog, about child custody. No matter what type of custody arrangement you are fighting for—full, joint, weekends, etc., the court will evaluate all of your behavior. A good rule of thumb is to behave as if the judge were standing next to you each time you have any form of communication with the children and/or the other parent. This includes face to face interactions, phone conversations and text messages. This is also a good rule of thumb to keep in mind when making social media posts. Social media posts can be particularly devastating even if you later regret it and delete the post, it’s already out there and you can almost guarantee that someone has a screenshot of it. Also, avoid talking negatively about the other parent when they are with you. Kids tend to repeat and mimic everything they see and do and after all this is their mom or dad. It is always best to take the high road. The children can often feel torn and forced to choose one parent over the other. Remain active in your children’s activities and schedules. Just because you and your ex can no longer be married, you can co-parent (see our past blog about successful co-parenting). Now is more important than ever for your children to see you at their ballgames, plays, and other activities. The courts will also take note of your continued involvement and commitment to your kids. You are ready to move on to the next chapter in your life, but it is best to avoid moving in with your significant other. Courts are reluctant to put kids in this situation and do not appreciate children being exposed to significant others while a divorce proceeding is going on. Children have a hard time understanding that their mom or dad’s love has transferred to another person and could feel uncomfortable around the new partner. Just as you shouldn’t criticize your ex in front of the children, do not criticize him or her in front of family, friends, co-workers, etc. You can always assume that your comments will get back to the other person. Never deny contact, such as telephone calls, texting or social media with the other parent when the children are with you. The judge will see this as alienation of affection. Again, you don’t want the kids to feel as though they have to choose one parent over the other. Never, never take the children out of town without telling the other parent. Besides showing disrespect to the other parent, this could be considered kidnapping and result in emergency orders restricting or terminating your parenting time or custody. According to the FBI, “By law (specifically the 1982 Missing Children’s Act), any person younger than 18 whose whereabouts are unknown to his or her legal custodian” is considered to be a missing person. When a child is believed to be abducted and taken across state lines, the FBI can become involved. The same rule as above applies to removing children out of daycare and/or school. Even if you are the primary custodian, the children should stay in school unless there is a valid reason for the absence that has been discussed with the other parent, i.e., doctor’s visits, dental appointments. If a temporary custody, order and child support have been put in place until a final decision has been made, be sure to follow it and pay the child support as ordered. Finally, follow your attorney’s advice throughout the entire process. This is a stressful time and you are often not making decisions with a clear head. Your attorney will keep you focused on the ultimate goal of surviving the divorce process while protecting your rights to your most valuable asset—your children. When fighting for your custodial rights, hire Kevin Hickey Law Partners because there are never any guarantees in custody battles. We specialize in family law matters and are here to help you.

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Dos and Don'ts of Child Custody...

When a couple decides to terminate their marriage, things can and probably will get heated at some point. This is particularly true when children are involved. It is easy to lose your cool and let emotions get the best of you and, frankly, no one can blame you when things escalate, but it is important to remember your children and what is in the best interest of them. My advice to clients regarding the do’s and don’ts of child custody in Arkansas are: Do Keep Discussions Age Appropriate for Children – Use your best judgement when it comes to telling kids about every detail regarding the case. Determine what is age appropriate for them. This is a difficult time for them as well; they do not need the extra stress of worrying about the case. Children will often imagine the worst-case scenario and internalize it or act out. Keep in mind this is his or her father or mother. Do Not Talk Poorly of the Other Parent in Front of the Children – Again, this is your children’s father or mother. It is important to not speak ill of your soon-to-be ex in front of the kids. Besides the fact that this can affect your children mentally, courts do not look favorable on parents who throw their children in the middle of a custody battle. You should also use caution when discussing matters with friends either in person or over the phone. Make sure your kids are not around where they overhear your conversation. Do not post anything negative on social media. Do Show Willingness to Work with Your Ex – Your ex will in all likelihood be in your children’s lives from now on. Therefore, it is not only important for you to work with him or her for their sake, it is important for the judge to see that you are willing to work with your ex and not using your children as pawns in an ugly divorce/custody battle. Do Not Begin a Romantic Relationship – You may be ready to move on with your life after a bad marriage, but it is advisable to avoid beginning any romantic relationships until your divorce is final. If you do decide to begin a romantic relationship, absolutely do not introduce the children to your partner until the divorce is final. Keep in mind that Arkansas is a conservative state and the courts tend to frown upon children being around romantic partners. Do Not Allow Unmarried Romantic Partners  to Stay the Night When the Children are Present – As mentioned, Arkansas is a conservative state and cohabitation between unmarried partners does not look favorable to the courts. Even if your divorce and custody case are final, cohabitation could be grounds for changing custody. Do Be Aware that Perception is Everything – The only thing the courts have to go by is the evidence that is presented to them and what they perceive to be true. Do everything you can to present yourself to the court as a competent, involved, loving parent. This includes your appearance to the judge and maintaining proper courtroom etiquette. This also includes watching what you post on social media. Anything can be used against you. See Brad Hull’s, an attorney with Kevin Hickey Law Partners, past blog about social media and divorce. Do Request an In-Home Custody Evaluation – This is not needed in every case, but as mentioned in item #6, perception is everything. If you believe that your ex could present you in a negative way to the judge, you may want to consider this option as a way to assure the courts you are a fit parent. Do Maintain Honesty with Your Lawyer – In order to present your case to the best of your attorney’s ability, it is imperative that he or she knows every detail regarding the situation. Leaving out important details will damage your case and your attorney’s ability to address them before the judge. Let Kevin Hickey Law Partners help you protect you and the best interest of your children. We can help guide you personally through the do’s and don’ts of your custody case with our extensive knowledge and expertise.

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(479) 434-2414 Fort Smith • (479) 802-6560 NWA

In the River Valley:
502 Garrison Avenue
Fort Smith, AR 72901
Phone: (479) 434-2414
Fax: (479) 434-2415

In Northwest Arkansas:
1120 S. Walton Blvd., Suite 142
Bentonville, AR 72712
Phone: (479) 802-6560
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