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Fathers in Texas continue the fight for custody rights

We've heard it for years: When it comes to custody of a child, mothers are given preferential treatment by the courts. Many men heading into divorce don't even bother to try, due to what they perceive as an expensive, uphill battle. The truth is, though, Texas family law courts expect both parents to share their rights and responsibilities as parents. Equally true, however, is that the mother will be awarded primary conservatorship in the majority of cases when the issue is under dispute. But is that due to bias toward the mother, or other factors taken into consideration?

Fathers trying to get their voices heard

In February, Dallas' WFAA Channel 8 TV reported that men have taken their fight to the 2017 Texas state legislature, in an effort to pass the "Equal Parenting" law House Bill 453, sponsored by State Representative James White (R-Woodville).

Generally, Texas courts will approve a shared parenting plan worked out between divorcing spouses. However, when no plan has been negotiated and it comes to litigating the matter through the courts, custody generally defers to the mother unless the father can demonstrate sufficient reasons otherwise. The way HB 453 was drafted, however, both parents would be automatically awarded equally-divided "possession" time and it would be incumbent upon either parent to argue for primary custody.

Why was the bill withdrawn by the sponsor?

During conference discussions of the bill, supporters (mostly fathers) became increasingly vocal in their support. Sponsoring Representative White pulled the bill from further consideration when the chair of the Texas Legislature's Juvenile Justice & Family Issues committee, Harold Dutton, expressed serious concerns about the nature of threats certain legislatures began facing from voters.

Marilea Lewis, who served as a Dallas County associate judge and district court judge for more than 24 years before entering private practice noted that the bill gave voice to men's complaints about fairness, but would leave the judges' hands tied regarding the child's best interests.

She said, "[The bill] mandates that the court must - because it says the court "shall" - enter a possession schedule that divides the time equally. It doesn't give the court any direction as to what that means. What does that look like? Does that look like week on, week off? Two weeks on, two weeks off?"

Although a similar bill died in the 2015 legislature, supporters vow to keep up pressure give fathers increased legal leverage in custody disputes. We'll keep you updated here.

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