Much has been written over the last few years about the push for higher minimum wages, reform of the criminal justice system and the expansion of rights for undocumented immigrants. While these are all incredibly valuable causes worthy of significant discussion, it’s important not to overlook an equally significant push for reform currently taking place in the area of family law.
The reform in question is centered around the adoption of so-called shared parenting laws, which are essentially designed to mandate that absent potentially dangerous or problematic circumstances, judges must award equal custody to divorcing parents.
Indeed, the last two years alone have seen shared parenting measures proposed in 18 states with two states –Utah and Minnesota — ultimately amending their laws and three states — Kentucky, Massachusetts and Missouri — currently considering such measures.
Here in Arkansas, lawmakers passed a shared parenting measure that was ultimately signed into law by then-Governor Mike Beebe back in 2013. It mandates the “approximate and reasonable equal division of time” as it relates to the custody of children during divorce proceedings, and signaled a dramatic departure from legal precedent, which long held that joint custody was not the favored result.
The measure currently under consideration in neighboring Missouri would have a similar effect, mandating that judges move from a standard of awarding parents “significant, but not necessarily equal” time with their children to “approximate and reasonably equal” time.
While the proposed changes seem to be gaining significant traction among lawmakers there based on the usual arguments — children benefit from having both parents in their life equally, brings courts into a more modern era, etc. — a small but vocal contingent of critics has emerged.
Here, their primary argument seems to be that such legislation fails to account for more practical considerations, such as what happens if the parents reside in different school districts.
It will be interesting to see what transpires in Missouri.
If you are considering a divorce and would like to learn more about the custody laws here in Arkansas, or have concerns relating to modification, please consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.