By early September, numerous states had enacted laws designed to redefine the way their family courts made custody determinations. While these new rules vary by state, the majority seem to encourage some form of shared parenting wherein both parents take part in child-rearing responsibilities. Some laws prohibit judges from basing their custody rulings on factors like how old a child is or whether a parent’s gender. Others shift their focus to promoting parenting time in general. Proponents believe that such arrangements might ultimately reduce the occurrence of children becoming estranged from one of their parents and help improve a child’s welfare.

Although some organizations have criticized the reforms, a number of academic researchers are reportedly in favor of them, and news sources say that many states are likely to get on board. Some 20 different states were working on legislation by 2016. Arizona, Missouri, Minnesota, Utah and South Dakota have already created new legislation.

States like Missouri modeled their laws on earlier statutes from Arizona, which may indicate that the changes will spread as different areas encounter successes. On the other hand, lawmakers in states like Florida are largely against the shared-parenting methodology, so the new laws may not propagate uniformly.

Child custody and support determinations can cause serious problems for unprepared parents. Individuals who want to be good parents may find it difficult to adhere to the terms handed down by judges, and even those who draft their own agreements could encounter challenges if they fail to anticipate future events like job losses or financial hardships. Before agreeing to a separation or seeking assistance from a judge to resolve a conflict, parents may want to speak to a lawyer about the best way to make a clean break.