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Why it's vital to include fathers in a parenting plan


This Sunday, of course, is Father's Day, and it's a time that we celebrate fathers. For fathers who have just gone through divorce, it can be a particularly trying time.

In many cases, fathers will end up in what's called the "non-custodial parent" role in legal terms - or, if you use the language in the Texas Family Code, the "possessory conservator" as opposed to the "managing conservator." That language creates a perception that the mother is "in charge" of parenting the children, and that fathers get time to "possess" or, even worse, "visit" the children.

What's in the Texas Family Code for the standard parenting plan isn't exactly a 50/50 split, but it comes quite close when you include how the time's divided over the summer. We're moving as a society from the perception that dads just work and moms just take care of children, and what's in the Texas Family Code helps reflect that.

We've noticed in recent years that more of our clients are interested in at least weighing alternative parenting plans that allow for the mother and father to have equal time. There are a lot of innovative plans that achieve that - some simply alternate weeks, and others allow consistency for children by allowing them to spend most the same weeknights each week with Mom and Dad yet alternating weekends.

If a case is litigated, it's more likely than not that the judge will default to the Texas Family Code parenting plan. If parents really do want an alternative parenting plan, it's best to do so through negotiation, collaborative law or mediation, where parents are more able to make choices. If it's left up to a judge to determine the decree, as it is in litigation, it's far less likely that judges will veer from traditional, established, codified parenting plans.

Today, unless there's a major issue with one parent that puts the safety of the child at risk, each parent will have significant time with his or her children under a decree. Even then, it's extremely rare that a parent will lose rights to care for his or her children entirely - a judge may order provisions like supervised parenting time to allow children contact with that parent and yet still keep that child safe.

Thankfully, most of the judges we work with understand that it's best for a child to have both parents involved. We've worked with a number of fathers over the year who genuinely love their children, are invested in their welfare, and want to be involved in their lives well after a divorce. It's important, in the work we do representing fathers, to do everything possible to make sure they have the opportunity to express that love and to be given the time to be with their children.

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