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Texas custody bill remains stuck, frustrating many parents

Texas courts commonly issue possession and access orders that divide physical custody of the children in a 60/40 split, with the mother usually receiving the lion’s share of time. House Bill (HB) 803 seeks to change things, if it can ever get in front of the legislature for a vote, that is.

What is HB 803?

First and foremost, the bill would change the default option in family court for custody to a 50/50 shared parenting model. Parenting time could still be adjusted as necessary according to the court’s wisdom, the family’s needs, and the best interests of the children.

The bill enjoys widespread support from parents and among legislators (with 21 co-sponsors signing on). Proponents of the bill argue that current law is a significant burden on women, particularly those who may not want to be saddled with the majority of the child-rearing duties because of career aspirations or other responsibilities. The existing system also leads to unnecessary conflicts and expensive litigation since parents have to virtually “go to war” to get the default option shifted by a family court judge.

Despite the overwhelming support, HB 803 has stalled. The Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee has yet to hold a hearing on the bill, which is a necessary step before it can go before the full legislature can hold a vote. The legislative session ends on May 31, so time is of the essence.

Some pros and cons

An evenly-split shared parenting custody model gives both mom and dad the ability to maintain a full and high-quality relationship with the children. It only works, though, if both parents are willing to communicate and compromise as needed. For example, the children might miss out on activities or opportunities that occur on one parent’s time if there is conflict.

Another potential pitfall of HB 803 is that some parents will aggressively seek out a 50/50 split of parenting time for the purpose of avoiding child support. Women stereotypically make less than men (even for the same positions), so this disproportionately impacts moms.

Of course, a 50/50 shared parenting model isn’t appropriate for every family. That fact might not necessarily be readily apparent to a judge, though. This could lead to protracted litigation wherein one parent spends thousands to prove that the other shouldn’t have custody half of the time.

Most divorced parents are happier with a parenting plan that they work out themselves, rather than one determined by the court. Working with an experienced attorney can help you determine what arrangement is in the best interests of your family and then negotiate towards that.