What are the Bill Numbers?

HB 2157 Relating to equal parenting orders.

SB 2203 Relating to equal parenting orders.

These two bills are identical sister bills. 

This is the first time that Texas has had an equal parenting bill in introduced in the Senate.

HB 3414 Relating to alternating equal access times of possession under a standard possession order in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship

Here is the introduced text of HB 2157 and SB 2203 sister bills:

relating to equal parenting orders in suits affecting the parent-child relationship.        BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:        SECTION 1.  Section 153.001(a), Family Code, is amended to read as follows:        (a)  The public policy of this state is to:              (1)  assure that children will have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of the child;              (2)  provide a safe, stable, and nonviolent environment for the child; and              (3)  encourage parents to share equally in the rights and duties of raising their child after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage.        SECTION 2.  Section 153.134, Family Code, is amended by adding Subsection (c) to read as follows:        (c)  If the court renders an order appointing the parents joint managing conservators under this section, the court shall enter a possession order under Subchapter F-1 that provides for equal parenting , unless the court determines that order is not in the best interest of the child, in which case the court may enter:              (1)  a standard possession order as provided by Subchapter F; or              (2)  another order regarding possession that the court determines is in the best interest of the child.        SECTION 3.  Chapter 153, Family Code, is amended by adding Subchapter F-1 to read as follows: SUBCHAPTER F-1. EQUAL PARENTING ORDER        Sec. 153.351.  AUTHORITY TO ENTER EQUAL PARENTING ORDER. Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, a court shall, as an alternative to the standard possession order under Subchapter F, enter an order providing for periods of possession of a child in accordance with this subchapter if the court:              (1)  appoints the parents joint managing conservators under Section 153.134; and              (2)  determines that the order would be in the best interest of the child.        Sec. 153.352.  PERIODS OF POSSESSION UNDER EQUAL PARENTING ORDER. (a) Subject to Subsection (b), a court may enter an order under this subchapter that provides that each parent has the right to possession of the child under a schedule specified by the court, provided that:              (1)  the schedule may not grant possession to a parent for a number of days each year that exceeds the number of days of possession granted to the other parent for that year by more than five days; and              (2)  the schedule must alternate on a yearly basis the parent who is granted possession for a number of days for the year that exceeds the number of days granted to the other parent.        (b)  A court shall provide parents with the opportunity to select by agreement a schedule for possession described by Subsection (a), subject to the court’s determination that the proposed schedule is in the best interest of the child. If the parents do not agree, the court may order possession under any schedule described by Subsection (a).        SECTION 4.  The enactment of this Act does not constitute a material and substantial change of circumstances sufficient to warrant modification of a court order or portion of a decree that provides for the possession of or access to a child rendered before the effective date of this Act.        SECTION 5.  The change in law made by this Act applies to a suit affecting the parent-child relationship that is pending in a trial court on the effective date of this Act or that is filed on or after the effective date of this Act.        SECTION 6.  This Act takes effect September 1, 2019.

 

HERE IS THE TEXT OF HB3414:

relating to alternative equal access times of possession under a standard possession order in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship.        BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:        SECTION 1.  Subchapter F, Chapter 153, Family Code, is amended by adding Section 153.3115 to read as follows:        Sec. 153.3115.  RIGHT TO ALTERNATIVE EQUAL ACCESS STANDARD POSSESSION ORDER. (a) Unless the court finds that an alternative equal access standard possession order under Section 153.318, or an election under that order, is not in the best interest of the child, a conservator may elect to increase the times of possession to which the conservator would otherwise be entitled under Sections 153.312, 153.314, and 153.315 by requesting an alternative equal access standard possession order under Section 153.318.        (b)  A conservator must make an election under Subsection (a)   before or at the time a possession order is rendered.        (c)  An election under Subsection (a) may be made:              (1)  in a written document filed with the court; or              (2)  through an oral statement made in open court on the record.        SECTION 2.  Subchapter F, Chapter 153, Family Code, is amended by adding Section 153.318 to read as follows:        Sec. 153.318.  ALTERNATIVE EQUAL ACCESS POSSESSION ORDER. (a)  If elected by a conservator under Section 153.3115 and subject to the limitations prescribed by that section, the court shall alter the standard possession order under Sections 153.312, 153.314, and 153.315 to provide for increased times of possession as a result of that conservator’s election under one of the following arrangements:              (1)  an arrangement under which each parent has possession of the child for one week at a time, alternating weeks of possession with the other parent;              (2)  an arrangement under which possession of the child alternates between the parents for succeeding two-day alternating periods followed by alternating five-day periods; or              (3)  an arrangement under which each parent has possession of the child under a schedule specified by the court or agreed to by the parties, provided that the schedule provides the child, as reasonably as possible, approximately equal access to both conservators.        (b)  If under an arrangement elected under Subsection (a), one parent is granted possession of the child for a greater number of days than the other parent in a year, the other parent must be granted possession of the child for that same number of days in the following year.        (c)  The holiday and vacation schedules prescribed by this subchapter apply to an arrangement elected under Subsection (a).        (d)  The parents may modify an arrangement elected under Subsection (a) or the holiday or vacation schedule by mutual agreement.        (e)  A period of possession that begins or ends on a Friday or a Sunday under an arrangement elected under Subsection (b) is subject to the possession period extensions provided by Section 153.315.        SECTION 3.  The enactment of this Act does not constitute a material and substantial change of circumstances sufficient to warrant modification of a court order or portion of a decree that provides for the possession of or access to a child rendered before the effective date of this Act.        SECTION 4.  The change in law made by this Act applies to a suit affecting the parent-child relationship that is pending in a trial court on the effective date of this Act or that is filed on or after the effective date of this Act.        SECTION 5.  This Act takes effect September 1, 2019.

Is Equal Parenting Good for Children?

Yes, until it is proven that it is not good for the child, equal parenting is the required starting point by the constitution. It is never good to violate a child’s fundamental rights. And in fact, it has proved more harmful to violate children’s rights and strip fit and loving parent out of their life even when the parents are in high conflict. 

Children are more likely to suffer stress, anxiety, depression, and confusion when a parent is removed from their life and there is restricted access more than what is necessary to actually protect a child.

However, none of these bills require constitutional guarantees for fundamental parental rights be applied. 

Who are the Supporters of Equal Parenting?

There is a multitude of mental health professionals and studies that now support that maximum time or as close to equal time with each fit parent is the best model that produces the best outcomes for children, including when there are high conflict parents.

Researchers publish that a child of divorce whose parents were high conflict does better in divorce with equal time between the parents, and fares better than a child who is in an intact marriage with high conflict parents.

Who are the Opponents to Equal Parenting?

The Texas Family Law Foundation (TFLF) has circulated a flier warning legislators that another attempt at equal parenting will be made by Father’s rights groups.

They claim that the Texas Family Code already has equal parenting in it. They make two claims:

  1. Standard Possession order is already equal.
  2. Judges already have the option to order equal parenting plans.

TFLF claims that putting an equal parenting presumption in the law would not allow the judge to consider each case individually.

 

 

The Bresnens are lobbyists for TFLF and they regularly have opposed equal parenting plan bills.

 

TFLF is the lobbying arm for the attorney bar association, their purpose is to protect attorneys and their business.

FACT: Judges use the standard possession order under Section F of Section 153 which is every First, Third, and Fifth Weekend starting on Fridays, and Thursday evenings from 6 to 8 P.M. This is the section that the proposed bills seek to add an equal parenting order and equal parenting plan option to. If the judges can already order equal then why would the lobbying group that represents attorney interests have a problem with adding an equal parenting order and parenting plan. The proposed bills do not take away the judge’s discretion to take away the equal parenting plan on a whim, based on his own personal beliefs, or based on his own idea of what he decides is the better parent. He can continue to be just as vague and overbroad that he wishes to be. These bills do not change that.

Is there Research Supporting Equal Parenting?

Yes. And in fact, most of the more recent research supports equal to as close to equal as possible as the healthiest model of parenting plan for children of fit, interested, and involved parents.

Dr. Richard Warshak links: http://www.warshak.com/store/cr68.html

When parents are married, they generally share the care of their babies —diapering, feeding, bathing, putting to bed, soothing in the middle of the night, cuddling in the morning. But if parents separate or divorce, should children under four spend every night in one home? Or will infants and toddlers benefit from spending overnight time in the care of each parent?

To answer these questions, Dr. Warshak spent two years reviewing and analyzing the relevant scientific literature. His conclusions garnered the endorsement of 110 of the world’s top experts.  “Just as we encourage shared parenting in two-parent homes,” Dr. Warshak says, “the evidence shows that shared parenting should be the norm for children of all ages, including sharing the overnight care for very young children.” To maximize children’s chances of having long lasting relationships and secure attachments to each parent, this consensus report encourages both parents after their separation to maximize the time they spend with their children, including the sharing of overnight parenting time.

This consensus report appeared in February 2014 in a prestigious journal published by the American Psychological Association.

 

Dr. Edward Kruk Link: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/co-parenting-after-divorce/201204/sixteen-arguments-in-support-co-parenting

It may be asked, then, after 40 years of debate, whether we have now reached a tipping point, when researchers can conclude with confidencethat the best interests of children are commensurate with a legal presumption of shared parenting responsibility after divorce. Summarizing the state of current research in two recent special issues on shared parenting in the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage and the Journal of Child Custody, leading divorce scholar Sanford Braver asserts, “To my mind, we’re over the hump. We’ve reached the watershed. On the basis of this evidence, social scientists can now cautiously recommend presumptive shared parenting to policymakers…shared parenting has enough evidence [that] the burden of proof should now fall to those who oppose it rather than those who promote it.”

Not all conflict is bad for children. Ongoing and unresolved conflict, however, is harmful to children; in such situations, rather than depriving children of a relationship with one parent, interventions to reduce conflict and support child development, such as assisting parallel parenting, therapeutic family mediation, and parenting education programs, were found to be most protective of child well-being.

1. Shared parenting preserves children’s relationships with both parents

2. Shared parenting preserves parents’ relationships with their children

3. Shared parenting decreases parental conflict and prevents family violence

4. Shared parenting reflects children’s preferences and views about their needs and best interests

5. Shared parenting reflects parents’ preferences and views about their children’s needs and best interests

6. Shared parenting reflects child caregiving arrangements before divorce

7. Shared parenting enhances the quality of parent-child relationships

8. Shared parenting decreases parental focus on “mathematizing time” and reduces litigation

9. Shared parenting provides an incentive for inter-parental negotiation, mediation and the development of parenting plans

10. Shared parenting provides a clear and consistent guideline for judicial decision-making

11. Shared parenting reduces the risk and incidence of parental alienation

12. Shared parenting enables enforcement of parenting orders, as parents are more likely to abide by an equal parental responsibility order

13. Shared parenting addresses social justice imperatives regarding protection of children’s rights

14. Shared parenting addresses social justice imperatives regarding parental authority, autonomy, equality, rights and responsibilities

15. The discretionary best interests of the child / sole custody model is not empirically supported

16. A rebuttable legal presumption of shared parenting responsibility is empirically supported

Dr. William Fabricius

Link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10502556.2018.1454196

What Happens When There Is Presumptive 50/50 Parenting Time? An Evaluation of Arizona’s New Child Custody Statute

The current study presents the findings of an evaluation of Arizona’s 2013 revisions to the child custody statutes that directed courts to “maximize” the child’s parenting time with both parents. A state-wide survey of the four family law professions (i.e., conciliation court staff, judges, mental health providers, and attorneys) assessed their perceptions of the law 4 years after implementation. We averaged the ratings across the four professions to obtain a comprehensive perspective that gave equal weight to each profession. Results revealed that the law functions as a rebuttable presumption of equal parenting time; that it is evaluated positively overall and in terms of children’s best interests; that it is has a neutral impact on legal and interparental conflict; and that it has led to small increases in allegations of domestic violence, child abuse, and substance abuse.

William Fabricius, associate professor at the ASU Department of Psychology, is a pioneer in research on divorced children and long-term health outcomes. Arizona’s new child custody law went into effect five years ago, and the first evaluation will be published in the spring issue of the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage. Fabricius, associate professor of psychology, is the lead author on the paper. The motivation behind Fabricius’ efforts to change Arizona’s child custody law happened in the mid-1990s when he gave a lecture to family court employees as part of a continuing education program. “I was asked to give a half hour talk on basic child development. I started my talk by saying that developmental psychologists had known since the early 1980s that infants become attached to their fathers as much as they do their mothers,” Fabricius said. “They stopped me in my tracks, and I could not get past that point.” The fact that the people in charge of child custody decisions were unaware of established findings in developmental psychology inspired Fabricius. “We as scientists have so much knowledge, and we should go out and do basic training in the community,” he said.

Dr. Roseman

Dr. Miller

Dr. Bernet

Linda Nielsen

Amy Baker

and many others support equal parenting for children whose parents have divorced or separated and have not been proven to be unfit or a danger to the child.

Do these Equal Parenting Bills Change the Burden of Proof?

Yes, sort of. Whenever, the law says that a judge “shall” do something, the legislators are telling the judge that he has no choice. And in this case, they are telling the judge that he shall order an equal parenting plan, unless he finds it is not in the best interest of the child. Judges have wide discretion with BIC and can do pretty much what they want with only a preponderance of evidence. That could mean that they just decide to go with the other parent’s testimony that you are a less than desireable parent with less than desirable parenting beliefs and decisions, or perhaps the judge just likes the decisions of the other parent a sliver better than yours.

So the bill authors have made equal parenting rebuttable with the best interest of the child standard. The same standard that they have been using to strip fit parents of equal parenting time and other rights. And anyone that has been through the family courts and had this standard applied to them know that it doesn’t take much. So that part doesn’t change.

So essentially, all these bills do is signal to the judges that the legislators intend for the parenting plans to be equal and that the judge is “authorized” as one bill puts it to order an equal parenting plan.

For some that might seem huge. For the parents who understand constitutional law not so much.

For the parents who get the judges who have developed a pattern of defaulting to the First, Third, and Fifth weekend Standard Possession Order (SPO), this may help them a bit convince the judge to think in terms of equal, unless of course if that judge just absolutely does not believe equal is good for children.

Only time will tell with each judge on this. These bills still leave parents wide open to the same torture, burdens, and expense to prove that they are worthy for equal parenting as soon as they are challenged. To the parent being challenged, they won’t feel like the burden has shifted at all. With a judge who wants to issue an unequal parenting plan, they could feel even more pressure to prove that they are the better parent, especially since they have no guarantee of getting the benefit of the equal parenting plan when challenged with a vague standard such as BIC.

GALs and Amicus might benefit from these bills as more courts may find that they want studies done and investigations to provide them with evidence that equal is in the best interest of a child in the judge’s opinion.

 

 

 

 

Do these Equal Parenting Bills Guarantee an Equal Parenting Order?

No. All of these bills have left the decsion up to the judge based on his sole determination of whether an equal parenting plan order is in the best interest of the child. 

BIC has long been used to provide one parent with more time and influence over the child than the other. 

These bills do not change this. These bills provide another option under the Standard Possession Order section of the Texas Family Code. 

These bills make the equal parenting plan the default option; however, it can be overcome with the application of the best interest of the child standard. This is a lowered standard than the constitutional guarantees and in our opinion not enough to protect your fundamental rights from being stripped with nothing more than the viewpoint of the judge, amicus, GAL, or any other expert appointed, and even your ex, a neighbor, and school teacher . . . you name it.

When Would this Bill go Into Effect?

If any of these bills pass the house and the senate, they would go into effect on September 1, 2019.

If the Bill Passes Can I Use it to Modify my Current Parenting Plan?

Each of the bills state that the passsage of the bill is not considered a change in circumstances. So if you planned to use it for a change in circumstance, then no.

However, if you have a change in circumstance, you can ask for the new law to be applied. If the judge feels that it is not in your child’s best interest for a change in your custody plan though or that it is not the right plan for your child, the judge can still deny you an equal parenting order. 

Parents in Texas, this year 2019, have an opportunity to add an equal parenting plan and order to the Texas Family Code Standard Possession Order (SPO) section. Historically, the SPO has only contained one plan that gives a noncustodial joint custody parent First, Third, and Fifth weekends of every month and Thursday evenings.

Family law attorney lobbyists called the Texas Family Law Foundation (or TFLF) have been attempting to convince legislators that the expanded SPO is equal. Three legislators have filed equal parenting bills to ensure that equal really is equal. 

Part of the reason the legislators have not bought that narrative is because parents have beeen going to them for many years complaining that the standard possession order was cutting them out of their children’s lives too much, that they needed more time and more like time and quality to the other parent so that they could equally influence their child and provide their child with equal support and guidance.

The SPO as seen in Drew’s YouTube video shows that it is 34% time and not anywhere close to equal.

The attorneys tried to argue that eyeball to eyeball time was equal and that the time that mattered was the hours a child was awake. This however does not meet the constitutional standard which is least restrictive and narrowly tailored. The state has no business in your business or crafting a parenting plan based on hours a child is awake or even one that does not protect your like quality and time with your child.

Studies have shown that children receive benefit from fathers reading them bedtime stories, tucking them in at night, and being there for them in the mornings on an equal time basis. And mental health professionals have shown that this assures the child that both parents love them equally and want to be with them. Children do not understand when a parent is removed from their life more than the other parent, they miss that parent, they worry about that parent, and their minds naturally fill in what they don’t understand with the worst scenario possible — daddy or mommy must not love me because they don’t spend more time with me, or that there must be something wrong with daddy or mommy if the judge didn’t want them to be with me more.

Parents often react out of stress when they are stripped from their child’s life and they know their child is suffering and missing them. The court often address this with placing gag orders on the parent, preventing the parent from explaining to the child what is happening and why. And even with an explanation, the child is still a child and their brain is not always going to accept adult explanations, and they will still suffer the emotional damage that this separation from the parent the child suffers. Sometimes these separations also create extreme and devastating reactions from a parent or child where one of them becomes a shooter, kills others or themselves. Children and parents who are treated unfairly in the family courts also have much higher rates of depression, suicide, anxiety, PTSD, and long-term negative health effects, develop deadly diseases. The impact of the stressors are measured in ACEs and other studies conducted by the CDC, NHI, and others.

Children benefit emotionally from having both parents in their lives. Joint custody is the natural default and equal shared parenting can become the norm once the judges in Texas know that the go-to default is equal.

Shared parenting is also shown to benefit the parent’s mental health and well being as well. Children and parents are less likely to develop severe anxiety disorders, depression, or be suicidal. Parents are more likely to settle down sooner after divorce or separation and have less fear of losing their child and their rights. This leaves more time and resources to focus on the children.

*Mothers are also separatated from their children as well, just not as often, so this post sometimes refers to fathers but is not intending to make this a gender issue.

 

NOTE: BIC stands for Best Interest of the Child Standard