By: E.A. Putman
January 8, 2019 marked the beginning of a 140-day sprint for 150 House members and 31 Senators to create or fine tune the family laws in Texas. I had the privilege of working as a legislative aide ten years ago during the 81st session and I intend to return to the pink dome this year to advocate for positive and practical changes in Texas Family Law.
Ten years ago, the family law bills that became law were straightforward and relatively simple. Some of the legislation from that 81st session included direct deposit and debit cards for child support obligees as well as decreasing the 60-day waiting period for divorce if there is a finding of family violence or protective order.
A lot has changed in the ten years since I have roamed the halls of the Capitol extension buildings. The deadline to terminate the parent-child relationship based on mistaken paternity was extended in 2015, obligors were required to carry dental insurance moving forward in 2017 and in the interim, thousands of bills “died” without ever making it out of committee causing support or concern amongst advocacy groups regarding the state of family affairs in Texas.
This year will not prove to be an exception. While there was only been a handful of family law bills filed before the Legislature convened at noon, you can expect that by March, there will be tons of bills, bills, bills.
“At First We Started Out Real Cool…”
New Leader: After ten years in leadership, Speaker Joe Straus is retiring. I have not followed the musings of the legislature for some years because I was a bit preoccupied teaching at the university and managing the practice. The House is led by the speaker, who is a regular state representative elected by House members. Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-25) is the front runner for Speaker of the House and sources (Google) tell me that he’s going to be the next leader. The Speaker is more than a figure head; he has the very important and powerful task of creating committee assignments. The speaker picks who is on which committee and determining which committee a bill goes to.
In prior years, Rep. Harold Dutton, Jr. (D-142) was the Chair of the Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee. Rep. Dutton was flanked by six other members, including four who were licensed attorneys. Is that relevant? Of course. An understanding of the law in theory is one thing, but understanding the law based on practice and being a part of the judicial process to observe the effects of legislation is another.
“Taking Me Places I Ain’t Never Been…“
New Lawmakers: Elephant in the room be damned. The 2018 mid-term election was a huge awakening, at least in Houston, Harris County, Texas. That awakening will be felt in Austin in 2019. Over 25 new members were elected to the Texas House; with the Democrats picking up 12 more seats, resulting in 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats. Although there has been “conservative” legislation passed in the ten years since the House had a 76-74 split (or something extremely close), there are certain bills that will continue to be contentious in the family issues committee hearing.
“But now, you’re getting comfortable…Ain’t doing those things you did no more”
New Legislation: Let me preface my rather clever comparison and also clarify, there is nothing more comfortable (litigation-wise) than parties who are amenable to working together–whether that is in the dissolution of the marriage or in cases involving the parent-child relationship. But, that is not always the case, hence the need for a standard middle ground where all parties must start and have their case evaluated on its individual merit.
Notable bills that will be filed before March 8th (60th day)
- “50/50” or Equal Parenting: This will possibly be the most contentious issue as the fathers for equal rights groups have been gaining momentum. In a nutshell, I understand the arguments for and against equal parenting in theory. Nonetheless, in my practice, many of my “equal parenting” orders were because the parties agreed, not because a court ordered it. Mainly because if a party is going before a judge–there’s no middle ground, “hence the need for a standard middle ground (standard possession order) where all parties must start and have their case evaluated on its individual merit” (as quoted in paragraph above).
- Attempts to End “No Fault” Divorce: I examined the effects of this from a practical perspective in a post last Autumn.
- Extending the Wait Times for Finalizing Divorce: Currently, a party cannot have a divorce granted before the 60th day of filing with the exception of some family law cases as mentioned above.
Notable bills that have been filed as of January 8th (1st day)
- Summer Weekend Possession: Requiring notice to a managing conservator regarding where to pick up and return the child before and after summer vacation.
- Agreements Incident to Divorce or Annulment: Agreements incident to divorce are enforceable even if incorporated in orders by reference.
- Removing Discriminatory Language Regarding Homosexuality from Educational Materials Will also require a constitutional amendment to modify the definition of marriage
“I don’t think you do. So, you and me are through.”
The Texas legislative session is only 140 days, yet the deadline for filing bills is in (now) less than two months! After that time there will only be 80 days remaining for a committee to have a hearing on these bills, get it to the floor in one chamber and then the other chamber, etc. I realize I am missing steps in the “how a bill becomes a law” process, but the point is family law issues is one of hundreds of issues in Texas. As a Houston resident, I can tell you that for sure Hurricane Harvey funding and rebuilding will be at the forefront. So, what will happen to the pressing issues in family law? Subscribe to the blog to stay informed. We will be covering family law issues during the legislative session from the start to sine die.
The Putman Firm, PLLC is a family law litigation firm that handles a wide array of family matters including criminal matters that intersect family law, i.e. family violence assault cases, protective orders (criminal and civil) and allegations of child abuse.
If you or someone you know is facing a challenging family matter, contact The Putman Firm, PLLC at (281) 501-9033