By: E.A. Putman
(Updated from original article published January 8, 2019).
January 10, 2023, marks the beginning of a 140-day sprint for the 150 House members and 31 Senators to create or fine-tune the family laws of Texas. Prior to practicing law, I worked as a legislative aide during the 81st session. I also walked the halls of the pink dome as a novice lobbyist during the 83rd session.
My days as a legislative aide and lobbyist are long gone. These days, I am on the other side of the law. The side that litigates the rules promulgated by those 181 elected officials. As of writing, there are over 75 bills have been filed that will affect the future of family law.
These are the seven family law bills to keep your eye on:
- House Bill 532 filed by Representative Patterson (R-106) seeks to modify the duty to pay child support, specifically, when the obligation commences. The arguably most divisive language in the bill is that “the court shall order the man to pay retroactive child support for the child beginning on the earliest possible date of the child ’s conception, as determined by a physician.“
- House Bill 604 filed by Representative Matt Shaheen (R-66) is similar to HB 532 and it will also require fathers to also “pay an equitable portion of all of the prenatal and postnatal health care expenses of the mother and the child.“
- Representative Rosenthal (D-135)’s House Bill 924 places the right to marry on par with other contractual rights for minors—non-existent unless dire (food, emergency, medical services). This bill will prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from getting married, period. This restriction is regardless of any permission from another state or even if the disability of the minor is removed for general purposes
- Habitual offenders who violate court orders and interfere with the other parent’s visitation should be worried. I mean, they should always be worried about being held in contempt of court in family law, but House Bill 559 filed by Representative Vasut (R-25) will amend the Texas Penal Code to place the felony of Interfering With Child Custody in the category of crimes that are not subject to a statute of limitations (i.e. murder). This means that the offending parent can be prosecuted indefinitely.
- Senate Bill 80 by Senator Johnson (D-16) will now permit pregnant people to divorce. Yes, if you are pregnant you may finalize your divorce. Under current law, a divorce may not be finalized if the wife is expecting. I suspect that some people are not always truthful (or even knowledgeable of their conception) at final hearings, but if it is known, then the divorce is postponed until the child is born. Under the proposed bill, while a divorce may be finalized, “the court shall defer adjudicating issues relating to the suit affecting the parent-child relationship regarding the unborn child until after the date of the child’s birth.“
- Representative Vasut also proposes a constitutional amendment that recognizes and reinforces the fundamental rights of parents parenting. This amendment, which if passed, will be put to the voters in a referendum in November 2023, recognizes “The liberty of a parent to direct the upbringing of the parent’s child is a fundamental right. This right includes the right to direct the care, custody, control, education, moral and religious training, and medical care of the child.” (House Joint Resolution No. 38).
- House Bill 957 by Representative Dutton (R-142) is going to be the biggest bill (IMO) to watch. This piece of legislation will change the game on who can file a lawsuit for custody. It follows the spirit of the Troxel case. Though there is a fundamental right under the Fourteenth Amendment for a parent to oversee the care, custody, and control of a child, there are arguably liberal exceptions to the current rules. Sometimes parents need to work on their lives (drugs, alcohol, jail, etc.) and their children may go to live with a relative. Relative in turn files a lawsuit for custody. This bill will remove the ability to file a lawsuit based on the length of time alone that the child has resided with said relative. The relative will still be able to file an original suit for custody; however, the relative must also be related within the 4th degree of consanguinity and the parents must be deceased or the relative must prove the high burden of significant impairment to file that lawsuit. There are other nuggets on standing (i.e. who can file a lawsuit for custody). Read the rest of the bill here.
In conclusion, I am excited about the upcoming session and will probably be making a trip or two to the Capitol to observe the hearings on some of the above-mentioned bills. 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 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