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What’s happening with House Bill 803?

by | Apr 16, 2021 | Parental Rights, Parenting Plans, Texas Law |

You may have heard about recent efforts to change the standard possession orders in the Texas Family Code. The bill before the Texas Legislature, House Bill 803, would shift how many divorced parents in Texas have their parenting time apportioned.

There’s a Fox 7 article out of Austin that gave an update as to what’s going on, with some quite pointed quotes from individuals who feel that the current default set-up in the Texas Family Code isn’t as fair as it could be to each parent. As that story characterized it, the bill aims to “change the default to equally shared parenting as long as both parents are deemed capable.”

As you’re probably aware, the current standard parenting orders give one parent the majority of time during the school year, with the other parent getting Thursday nights and the first, third, and fifth weekend, with provisions for summer and holiday parenting time also built into the equation.

Some people, including SarahJae Johnston with the Father’s Rights Movement, see that as unfair — not just for dads who want to be more involved with their kids, but also for women who want to be more independent but, as custodial parents who have the majority of the parenting time during the school year, may not have the time to do so.

The article notes that according to the Office of the Attorney General, about 92% of custodial parents are women.

“We’re telling young girls you can do all these amazing things, you can be more than a homemaker, but if they walk into the family court we’re taking away their ability,” Johnston said. “We say, no, you’re going to be 100% responsible, you’re always going to be the one that has to do this, and it would be nice if Dad participates, but under the law, we’re just going to say he doesn’t need to.”

The article noted that “HB 803 has stalled,” specifying that “it has yet to receive a hearing in the Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee, chaired by state Rep. Victoria Neave (D-Dallas).” As the Lege only meets once every two years, that means that if nothing progresses there, it could be 2023 before we see another attempt.

There’s certainly a debate to be had about the law and the merits of changing it, but one important thing to note here is that parents aren’t bound by the standard orders in the Texas Family Code. It’s there as a default that often finds its way into a decree, but it isn’t required for parents to use. If parents can agree that a 50/50 split is best for them, and more importantly, best for the children, that can go into the decree, even if the case is being litigated and the couple disagrees on other matters.

Also, as we’ve emphasized before, the parenting time laid out in the decree is a fallback if parents can’t come to a consensus on their own. If parents can agree on a parenting schedule that works for them, and it’s clearly communicated in writing, they can absolutely vary from what the decree says. Of course, if one parent’s not on board with varying from what’s in the decree, that’s where the default parenting plan comes in and gives both parents the structure they’re looking for.

At the Law Office of Lisa A. Vance, we’ve helped couples arrive at parenting plans in a variety of ways. Whether it’s through litigation, through alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation and collaborative divorce, or modification, we’ve worked with a great number of divorcing couples looking to create parenting plans. While it’s important to focus on the children when you’re crafting your parenting plan, you also want something that you can reasonably manage, allowing you to be the best parent you can be.