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What Does the Bill Do?
It changes the starting point in custody cases to allow a child to continue to have a meaningful relationship with BOTH parents. Current law only allows a child to live the majority of the time with one parent while visiting the other parent on weekends.
Is HB 803 good for children?
Yes. There are nearly 100 recent, peer reviewed studies by mental health professionals that show children growing up in shared parenting situations have outcomes that are indistinguishable from intact families. Children raised in single parent homes are at risk for poverty, homelessness, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, suicide, and behavioral issues.
Will this bill allow children to go to abusive homes?
No. The bill only allows for parents that are joint managing conservators the ability to have shared parenting time. Judges are prevented from awarding joint managing conservatorship to parents that have engaged in any form of abuse or domestic violence. (Tex. Fam. Code 153.004)
What about parents that live far apart?
The bill would only benefit children whose parents live close enough where school travel wouldn't be burdensome to the child. If parents live too far away, it won't work.
Does shared parenting work in high conflict divorces?
Yes. The goal of shared parenting is to protect a child's relationship with both parents. Even in high conflict situations, studies show children benefit. Studies also show that shared parenting reduces conflict effectively in the near term.
Doesn't this bill hurt single mothers?
No. Traditionally, single mothers have had to bear the responsibility of raising children alone. Studies show that single parents are overloaded and they often find themselves physically and emotionally absent when children need a parent most. This bill gives moms a break and ends societies undue pressure on them to “do it all.” It also provides the opportunity for single mothers to pursue careers. Mothers that have shared parenting schedules reported being happier and more confident.
Equal Access for Parents Puts Kids First
A father's love contributes as much -- and sometimes more -- to a child's development as does a mother's love. That is one of many findings in a new large-scale
analysis of research about the power of parental rejection and acceptance in shaping our personalities as children and into adulthood.
Watch this video to understand the trauma divorce, separation and custody do to children and families.
16 arguments in support of shared parenting
by Dr. Edward Kruk Ph.D., specializing in child and family policy
- Shared parenting preserves children's relationships with both parents
- Shared parenting preserves parents' relationships with their children
- Shared parenting decreases parental conflict and prevents family violence
- Shared parenting reflects children's preferences and views about their needs and best interests
- Shared parenting reflects parents' preferences and views about their children's needs and best interests
- Shared parenting reflects child caregiving arrangements before divorce
- Shared parenting enhances the quality of parent-child relationships
- Shared parenting decreases parental focus on “mathematizing time” and reduces litigation
- Shared parenting provides an incentive for inter-parental negotiation, mediation and the development of parenting plans
- Shared parenting provides a clear and consistent guideline for judicial decision-making
- Shared parenting reduces the risk and incidence of parental alienation
- Shared parenting enables enforcement of parenting orders, as parents are more likely to abide by an equal parental responsibility order
- Shared parenting addresses social justice imperatives regarding protection of children's rights
- Shared parenting addresses social justice imperatives regarding parental authority, autonomy, equality, rights and responsibilities
- The discretionary best interests of the child / sole custody model is not empirically supported
- A rebuttable legal presumption of shared parenting responsibility is empirically supported
Moms for Shared Parenting
This is why dads check out:
"Secondary parent. It is a phrase I learned in second grade after my parents’ divorce, an age that was far too young for understanding but I knew the meaning. It meant I didn’t see my dad half as much as I once did, now instead of every day it was every other weekend and on Wednesday nights. Eight days a month, 96 days a year for the next 11 years. It meant my dad was not my primary parent, because my mom held that title, or at least that’s what was in the legal documents. It meant that I missed my dad a lot and I felt like he didn’t want to see me. It meant I started to treat him like he was my secondary parent because the legal documents, teachers, and doctors who read my files all said so. He had to defer to my mother, my legal guardian, and the woman he was divorcing… and boy did that create a power imbalance. It meant he started to treat me like his secondary life as he started a new one. A new life that I only visited. Because that is what my dad had, visitation with me, not custody. A complete outsider. I resented his new life because like the Court said, I was not his primary responsibility, thus his life was not my primary life. That life, belonged to my step-siblings and to my step-mother and to my dad, but it was only secondarily mine."
MEETING THE ENEMY | Cassie Jaye | TEDxMarin
Read Letters How Custody Laws Affect Everyone
I am a daughter, a mother, and a woman who supports Equal Parenting for Texas children.
My parents divorced when I was 8. We had standard visitation with my dad, seeing him only a few times a month. This schedule didn't allow me to form a meaningful relationship with him. He remarried when I was 14, and I remember feeling heartbroken realizing that stepsister (also 14) knew more about my dad than I did. She got to have a relationship with my dad that I was never able to have with him. To this day, my stepsister is closer to my dad than I am because of our Texas family code allowed him to be an active stepdad, but not an active bio-dad.
I am also a stepmom of a nine and a half year old girl. I met her when she was one. I remember my husband dropping her off and seeing the heartache he experienced. He was broken, feeling like he only got to be a dad 8 days of the month. He eventually convinced his ex to have his daughter 50/50 with an agreement outside of court. He is an exceptional dad and that was taken away from him because she did not like that he remarried and I was going to spend as much time with the daughter as her and she took him back to court and he was reduced to a standard possession order.
At that point I started searching for a way to change our family code, and I stumbled across HB 803, the equal parenting bill.
This is the bill that I needed when I was a child, the bill my stepdaughter needed, the bill that all our Texas children need. We must change the starting presumption to recognize that children still need both of their loving parents equally, even when parents choose to separate.
-Robin, a daughter, a mom, and a woman
I was a stay home dad that raised my children until school age. Below is my story.
I wasn't surprised when my wife asked for a divorce. Afterall, 70 percent of divorces are initiated by women. There was no infidelity or abuse. We began to grow apart and issues began to surface. We were in and out of counseling for years . As we started going through the process of divorce, I found that it was increasingly unfair to me as a self-employed father.
First off, I was the main caregiver to my kids when they were first born and until school age. I worked from home, therefore, we decided that I put my career on hold to care for my kids, while my wife continued and advanced her career as a physician. I love my kids and I was willing to put my career on hold like many parents do when one parent makes more than the other. And I am not alone as a father. Currently 40% of women are breadwinners with children 18 years and younger.
Secondly, I thought custody would be fairer to stay home dads. That was not the case. As I began to talk things over with my attorney, it became clear that I was at a disadvantage and as I began to spend thousands of dollars toward divorce and custody, I decided to make some difficult decisions because I was afraid to be out spent and lose all rights to my children if I continued to fight.
Finally, I settled to have the standard possession (Thursday nights as well as 1st, 3rd and 5th weekends), 20% of our net worth, and not have to pay child support. Not paying child support allowed me to keep 100% of my income so I can stay in South Austin to be close to my children. And, I am one of the lucky ones, since I purchased my townhome 17 years ago before my marriage and when houses were affordable. I took the settlement money and remodeled it to make the home suitable for my children and I was able to put some money away for retirement. Many fathers have no place to go and are left bankrupt.
Being a male and having less money than my spouse, forced me to be a lesser parent when I was the primary caregiver before our divorce. I share my story to show the biases in court and how money controls the outcome. We need a fairer system where both parents are seen as equals in custody where child support and access to their children cannot be used against the other parent.
-A loving father and stay home dad
I am an immigrant woman from Mexico, and I serve as the Texas Women’s Outreach Director for the National Parents Organization. The following is my painful story, the negative impact that the Family court system had on my relationship with my daughter and why I support the HB 803 Equal Parenting bill.
I divorced 13 years ago and at the time of the divorce, I did not know my rights, my primary language was Spanish and unable to fully comprehend what was happening with my custody case, I had poor legal advice because I could not afford a lawyer who could oversee my case while I was able to take care of my immigration and financial situation. I was advised that it was not convenient to go in front of the judge because she would have forced me to pay child support, which at the time I was unable to afford. And, if I signed the document as it was, all I would have to do is come back later when my immigration and financial situation improved and modify the custody. Therefore, feeling defeated, with no voice, and vulnerable, I signed the document of divorce, without any hearing, mediation, or trial. And, as I learned, many men and women feel the same way when there are biases towards different groups among judges. I returned to Cd. Juarez (Mexico)/El Paso, TX, to get on my feet and take care of things.
As I have feared, the father of my daughter progressively cut out my access to my daughter. I would travel back and forth from Cd. Juarez (Mexico)/El Paso to see my daughter while I waited for my Permanent Residency, until he did not allow access anymore. This was not a surprise to me, but I never imagined that years later I would seek help from the Family court system, not get the help I needed and would be traumatized even further. Right after the government granted me the permanent residency, I began to look for pro-bono legal help from Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, Lone Star Legal Aid, St. Mary’s University Legal department, Catholic Charities, and Houston Volunteer lawyers, one after another did not represent me for many reasons: it was not their specialty, or the area they served, or they were overworked. Legal counsel was way out of my financial reach, I decided to save from my income, but I could never finance the exorbitant legal costs. It was not until 2014 that a newly graduated immigration lawyer with no experience offered me to help me for $2,000. I was desperate and I took the help. But his inexperience damaged my case further. The father of my daughter, who was in an advantageous financial situation, with the help of an experienced and aggressive lawyer, filed a lawsuit for Termination of my Parental Rights falsely accusing me of abandonment. False accusations happen too often in custody battles and the courts and judges have a difficult time to know real accusations from false accusations. Changing the current laws to a presumption of 50/50 will reduce the false accusations and free courts for problematic cases that need to go to court.
He lost after two years, but the Modification case continued for 4 years more. In total we were in court for 6 years, I had in total 5 lawyers, I spent $50,000+ and, the father of my daughter $100,000+. It was humiliating, emotionally draining, and a financial burden every step of the way through the process of family court. It was not until the year 2018 that I decided to be Pro-se, I learned about my rights, became my own advocate, there was a positive change in the court’s administration and judge, and I won my case. I have Joint Custody with the dad now, and I have access to my daughter every other weekend with extended days. But despite all my efforts, my child and I lost a bond, lost years of milestones and connection. And she has been influenced by her father’s family to reject me. My child now says she wants absolutely nothing to do with me, she refuses to have any contact with her great-grandma, grandma, aunts, cousins, extended family. The last time I had a positive connection with her, and she called me mother was when she was less than 3 years old. She is now almost 14 years old. Research like the one from Amy J. Baker PhD and Jennifer J. Harman PhD, shows that children who grow up in this type of circumstances have higher rates of mood disorders, substance abuse, and difficulty in forming healthy relationships. Many parents develop depression and high incidences of PTSD, and most suffer financially. We have been scarred for life.
Throughout all these 14 years I have joined several parent organizations and support groups, I supported the Erasing Family documentary by Ginger Gentile, where me and my child appear on the credits. I have heard the pain and desperate pleads of parents like me who have no voice, who feel alone, who have been left out without any resources and cannot get any legal help due to the high costs of family court. According to the film, 22 million parents say they have been erased from their children’s lives. I have seen how many fathers and mothers have been affected by biases and the lack of resources to get access to their children. Men and women need our family laws to change to save our families and our children from this type of tragedy. Too often one parent disparages and falsely accuses the other parent of being unfit, mental illnesses and other character flaws to gain more custody and to erase the parent from their children. Loving and fit parents should have equal access to their children.
I support the HB 803 Equal Parenting bill because it provides a solution and prevention from these problems from the current system, because it gives equal responsibilities and access to both parents after divorce. If one of the parents does not know how to share parenting responsibly, the children do not have to suffer the consequences because the equal access to their other parent is protected. It also gives the child the opportunity to spend the same amount of time with both parents and form an independent opinion of each of them. Divorce is an adult decision that should not hurt the relationship that the child wishes to have with both of their parents.
-A loving mother and an immigrant from Mexico
My name is Lisa Kuhns, I ask you to support HB 803 and below is why:
I was raised in a home with a single mother. I spent very little time with my father because of the standard visitation given to most mothers in divorces. I never really knew my father until i became an adult. Fast forward —I divorced my sons father 10 years ago and went against the standard visitation to give my sons father 50/50 or equal time, because I wanted my son to have a relationship with his father and not have the 4 days a month relationship with his father like I had.
I met my current husband 9 years ago and he has a daughter who in his divorce received standard visitation with her meaning he sees her every other weekend from Friday at 6pm to Sunday at 6pm or 4 days a month and gets 3 weeks in the summer and a week at either Christmas or thanksgiving. My sons relationship with both his Father and I are great. He has a very well balanced life spent with both of us. However my step daughters relationship is very estranged. She even tells her Dad she just doesn’t know him. Which who would when you only get to see your father 4 days a month, sometimes 6 if there is 5 weekends in a month.
I see first hand the damage that is done to that little girl compared to my son who sees both his parents equally. I ask ALL legislators to ask divorced kids and parents and see for yourself how one sided the relationships are with usually the mothers because of the drastically unequal time the kids get to spend with each parent. Not because the fathers are bad but because our system punishes one parent (usually the Dad) in a divorce and the kids are the one suffering.
Dear Honorable Members of the Texas House of Representatives:
I write to you today in support of House Bill 803, a bill relating to equal parenting orders in Suits Affecting Parent-Child Relationships. Not only do I write as a family law attorney with eight years' experience, but more importantly, as a father. I ask that you take this proposed bill into serious consideration and recognize the impact that it will have on generations of Texans to come.
As of right now, the Texas Family Code provides that a presumption exists in Suits Affecting Parent-Child Relationships that it is in the child's best interest that one parent be named the primary managing conservator; meaning that one parent has the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child. The Family Code also provides the presumption that it is also in the child's best interest that the other parent should have a standard possession and access schedule for the child. Under the standard possession schedule, the child only gets to see their other parent every other weekend, a couple hours on Thursdays (but only during the school year), every other holiday, and for 30 days during the summer. Keep in mind that for most of these other parents, taking 30 days off of work during the summer is usually not an option.
This is what you have deemed to be presumptively in the best interest of our children.
Now, technically, these presumptions can be overcome by a standard of clear and convincing evidence, but they very seldom are. As a practicing family law attorney, I can attest that unless the parents have been exercising a 50/50 possession schedule for a substantial period of time prior to going to court, 99 times out of 100 the court is going to lean on the presumptions that our representatives in the State Legislature have given them.
The Family Code sets forth several other corollary presumptions that flow from the primary parent presumption and the standard possession schedule presumption. One corollary presumption that incentivizes parents fight so hard to get the primary designation is the financial assistance it provides, for the Family Code also provides that it is in the best interest of the child that the other parent pay “guideline” child support. Again, as a practicing family law attorney, I can attest that this financial benefit is often a significant motivating factor in getting the primary designation and depriving children of spending time with their other parent.
Now, a 50/50 schedule may not work for everyone; in fact, it probably won't work for most. However, it would work for some. For those families in which a 50/50 schedule would work, they should not have to overcome a presumption that it would not. Equal parenting time should be the presumption.
I urge you to pass HB 803 and make the presumption be that children have equal time with both of their parents. If a 50/50 schedule is not feasible, then so be it...courts can look at designating a primary and handing out standard possession schedules. But that shouldn't be the staring point. The starting point should be equal time with each parent. Please do not hesitate to contact my office should you wish to discuss further.
Nilsson Legal Group
Research has shown that 50 / 50 custody results in children feeling equally loved, supported, and taken care of by both parents. Spending equal time with both parents generates better health, mental and social outcomes for the children.
A 50/50 starting point for child custody avoids lengthy and costly court battles when each parent is fit, willing and able. As one established family lawyer stated to a father when asked if he can obtain a 50/50 ruling, his response was "it will cost you a minimum of $50,000." The courts are set up for wealthy individuals to gain more access, to fight each other, spend money that can be used for the children, and disparage each other to "win". These court battles affect our children. And, we need to have the resources and courts available for when it is necessary for parents to go to court, in cases of abuse, parental alienation and neglect.
The system makes it difficult for someone to afford the costs needed to the fight the biases against them and is less affordable for minorities when the median household incomes in Texas are:
When Latino And African American Fathers Play Sensitively With Their Toddlers, Performance In Math Is Likely To Be Higher At Kindergarten
A research study focusing on low-income Latino and African American fathers in the USA has found a correlation between how sensitively they play
with their preschool children and their children's math achievement scores in kindergarten. This correlation exists irrespective
of the level of mothers' sensitive support for these children.
How Biases In The Court System Affect The Outcome
The assumption that black fathers have little involvement with their children has a major impact on the way judges,
attorneys, and the general public view them. This biased assumption directly affects the outcome of many divorces,
child custody, and child support cases involving black fathers.
[Ed. See "I Do for My Kids”: Negotiating Race and Racial Inequality in Family Court (Fordham Law Review, Volume 83, Issue 6, 2015)
by Tonya L. Brito, David J. Pate Jr., and Jia-Hui Stefanie Wong.]
Black fathers benefit from Ky.'s new joint custody lawIn this opinion article, the author referfence a Berkeley Journal study stating, "As a result of the economic obligations noncustodial fathers face, the definition of a good father post-divorce or post-separation has become synonymous with the ability to pay child support."
Read the Entire Article
A new study of trial court judges suggests these arbiters of the law sometimes let their personal ideas about
gender roles influence their decision-making. The findings, which are part of a broader study of judicial behavior,
revealed that the judges were just as likely as laypeople to discriminate - in ways that harmed both men and women - in decisions
involving child custody or workplace discrimination cases related to family caregiving duties.
In 2006, the National Fatherhood Initiative in Gaithersburg, Maryland commissioned the University of Texas at
Austin to conduct a survey of 701 fathers called "Pop's Culture: A National Survey of Dads' Attitudes on Fathering."
and learned that fathers who were not married to the mother of their children cited a lack of cooperation from mothers
as the chief obstacle to being a good father, followed by work responsibilities, financial problems
and treatment of fathers by the courts.
Why Was Walter Scott Running?
"In that pivotal moment, says his family, Scott may have been grappling with something seemingly unrelated to the traffic stop itself. He was likely struggling, they say, with what was for him an ever-present source of anxiety: his child-support arrears."
Read the Article
ASU psychology research leads to international conversation about custody laws
Emma Long from Moms for Shared Parenting created a video to explain the biases to women on the current custody laws.
The Current Texas Law Is Failing Our Children
When the law and court system automatically gives more custody to one parent over another, the children are the ones who suffer. The current Texas law has a preferred custody to give more access to the "primary parent" known as the custodial parent and visitation rights to the non-cusodial parent, usually the father. As a result, the court system "encourages and produces alienating behaviors." and high conflict as discussed in this video. And, the single, most problematic issue with giving more time to one parent, is the ability of allowing that parent to alienate the other parent.
This is one, and possibly the main reason, that non-custodial parents, usually the father, gets pushed out of the child's life. Edward Kruk Ph.D. who specializes in child and family policy, discusses parenting alienation and how the court system contributes to that behavior. We can eliminate parenting alienation by a 50/50 custody schedule.
As Amy Baker who has has a PhD in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College of Columbia University, writes, parents who try to alienate their child from the other parent subtlely or overtly convey a three-part message to the child: I am the only parent who loves you and you need me to feel good about yourself; the other parent is dangerous and unavailable; and pursuing a relationship with the other parent jeopardizes your relationship with me. Alienating parents are themselves emotionally fragile, often enmeshed with the child, with a “sense of entitlement, needing control, knowing only how to take” (Richardson, 2006). Yet although it is easy to pathologize and blame such parents, it must be remembered that alienating behavior is encouraged in the context of a legal adversarial forum where the goal is to “win” the custody or residence of one's child.
On the matter of parental alienation, I have come to see that the problem is systemic in nature; that is, the problem lies primarily in the adversarial nature of legal determination of parenting after divorce. Parents are set up to fight in an effort to win “primary residence” or "custody" of their children, and the system tends to reward those skilled in adversarial combat. Parents often win their case by disparaging the other parent as a parent, in effect engaging in alienating behaviors, and the system thereby encourages and produces alienating behavior. A legal presumption of co-parenting, rebuttable in established cases of child abuse and family violence, may in fact be the most effective means of combating parental alienation and curtailing its damaging consequences, while at the same time protecting the safety and well-being of children at risk of abuse.
Research Supports Equal Time With The Parents Is Best For The Child
There is extensive research supporting a 50/50 custody arrangement is best for the child. One of the most in-depth studies was done by Warshak, "[who] received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in 1978 where he stayed to eventually become Clinical Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry. He is best known for his research and advocacy in the areas of child custody, shared parenting, and claims of parental alienation. Warshak's research has focused on issues relating to child custody. His doctoral dissertation, The Effects of Father Custody and Mother Custody on Children's Personality Development, was the first study to directly compare children growing up in father-custody homes to children growing up in mother-custody homes. He later collaborated with John Santrock on the Texas Custody Research Project on a series of studies on the effects of different custody dispositions and stepfamilies.
Warshak's subsequent research in this area has focused on remarriage, relocation, parenting plans for young children, the American Law Institute's approximation rule and children's preferences in custody disputes. His child custody studies have been cited in case law and legislation. Warshak writes:
Fathers benefit from on-the-job experience just as mothers do. They learn to read their baby's signals and respond sensitively. Fathers may even have a greater impact than mothers in some areas such as language development and persistence in facing challenging obstacles — the “can do” attitude that is essential to success.
Linda Nielsen, a professor of educational and adolescent psychology at Wake Forest University, drilled into the research to test these ideas. She found that children whose parents share physical custody have better outcomes even when one parent initially opposed the arrangement and even when conflict between the parents was high. And the benefits of shared parenting were independent of the parents' income. The lesson from her work? To ensure better outcomes for children of divorced parents, focus on improving the quality of their relationships with each parent by maximizing the time spent with each of them.
In additon, Linda Nielsen has conducted research on the effects of shared parenting and on father–daughter relationships. Nielsen has shown that shared parenting, where a child of divorced parents spends approximately equal time with the father and the mother, generates better health, mental and social outcomes; and that a daughters' academic and career achievements are closely related to the quality of her childhood relationships with her father.
When Inaction Is the Riskiest Action
Dr. Amy Baker, a nationally recognized expert in parent child relationships, especially children of divorce, parental alienation syndrome, and emotional abuse of children, writes about judges.
They know that they are risk aversive. So my secret weapon against risk aversion is to educate them that to do nothing is a choice also and in the case of alienation, a choice that has known negative consequences associated with it. So, judges beware! I am going to scare you into taking action. Parental alienation is child abuse and cannot be allowed to continue even if acting makes you uncomfortable.
"I am in despair that many people and the courts expect the impossible. They expect the man to be totally interested, committed, involved with his child's life — and yet — they make it impossible for that involvement to happen."
Society Maintains a Double Standard
Our society maintains a curious double standard when it comes to encouraging hands-on shared parenting. For instance, we want dads involved with their infants and toddlers—diapering, feeding, bathing, putting to bed, soothing in the middle of the night, cuddling in the morning. But when parents separate, some people mistakenly think that it is best for young children to spend every night in one home, usually with mom, even when this means losing the care their father has been giving them. Despite all strides in cracking gender barriers, many of us still think that it is mom's exclusive role to care for infants and toddlers, and that we jeopardize young children's wellbeing if we trust fathers to do the job.
A number of studies have examined this hypothesis to see if it reflects infant experience. The research shows that children develop multiple relationships at around the same time. They form relationships with more than one caregiver that are independent in the sense that the relationship with mom is not a template for that with dad. Even John Bowlby came to recognize later in his career that infants would form attachments with more than one caregiver. We cannot rank these relationships.
It is time to resolve our ambivalence and contradictory ideas about fathers' and mothers' roles in their children's lives. If we value Dad reading Goodnight Moon to his toddler and soothing his fretful baby at 3am while the parents are living together, why withdraw our support and deprive the child of these expressions of fatherly love just because the parents no longer live together, or just because the sun has gone down?
When fathers are NOT present the children are affected in the following ways:
- 4x greater risk of poverty
- More likely to have behavioral problems
- 2x greater risk of infant mortality
- More likely to go to prison
- More likely to commit crime
- 7x more likely to become pregnant as a teen
- More likely to face abuse and neglect
- More likely to abuse drugs and alcohol
- 2x more likely to suffer obesity
- 2x more likely to drop out of high school
References and Articles