September 28, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Thanks to the Texas Fathers Rights Movement, we now have more data on what family courts actually do when ordering child custody and parenting time. It’s long been one of the most serious problems of the fight for parental equality that states don’t routinely keep that data.
As I’ve said many times, doing so wouldn’t be difficult. At the end of every divorce and custody case, the parties or their attorneys should be required to fill out a simple form describing who got primary custody, and what parenting time the non-primary custodial parent received. That information would then be entered into a digital database that could be accessed by anyone wanting to know the facts of what family courts actually do.
But no state does that, so we’re left to rely on occasional and more or less random studies for our information. That’s doubly important due to the fact that the lobbying arm of the Family Law Section of the Texas State Bar Association recently provided false information about parenting time to the state legislature. It did so in an effort to defeat a shared parenting bill that was then before legislators.
Now, the TFRM data scarcely answer all the questions about custody and parenting orders in the Lone Star State. The study was conducted in just a single county during 2016. That county, Brazoria County south of Houston, isn’t like many others in the state. It’s a coastal county that’s heavy with the petro-chemical industry, so its inhabitants are likely a bit better off financially than those of some other counties, but they’re also highly likely to be blue-collar. The racial makeup and other demographic variables of Brazoria County residents, I can’t guess at.
Still, the good folks at the TFRM have made an excellent start and tell me they intend to add data from other counties to their current findings.
So, what did they find? Keep in mind that Texas family law statutes set out specifically what parenting time is to be ordered when the “Standard Possession Order” (SPO) is either agreed to or ordered by the judge in the case. By law, the SPO offers non-primary parents (called possessory conservators) about 25% of the parenting time. That’s every other weekend, two hours every Thursday night, a week at spring break and 30 days during the summer.
The results from this study were obtained by looking through 399 court orders that were issued in the months of February and August 2016 in the 300th district court, Brazoria County, Texas. The 399 orders compromise all family court orders issued in the 300th district court in February and august of 2016 in which children are the subject of the orders (Divorces not including children were not looked at).
Among the key findings were:
1) 93% of the parents given primary custody were women.
2) When a visitation schedule was ordered, only 9% of those orders gave more than minimum contact with the non-primary parent. And only 5% of all order visitation schedules were 50/50.
3) Out of all the cases that awarded more than minimum visitation time only one was ordered by a judge, the rest were agreed.
4) Out of all the cases that awarded a male to be the primary parent only one was ordered by a judge, the rest were agreed.
5) Although 23% of male petitioners had attorneys, only 5% of males were awarded primary. Compared to 21% female petitioners with attorneys and 81% of females being awarded primary.
6) 82% of petitioners were female.
7) 0% of the orders signed through the office of the Attorney General (OAG) allowed more than y minimum contact between the child and the non-primary parent.
8) 0% of the orders signed through the OAG’s office ordered a male to be primary parent.
Out of the 399 orders, approximately 250 orders had relevant data. Among the excluded orders were ongoing cases, cases that were “non-suited” or dismissed, change of venues and consolidations.
In short, the overwhelming majority of primary parents are mothers. In only 9% of cases was more parenting time than is called for under the SPO ordered and in only 5% was parenting time shared equally. Unsurprisingly, mothers made up the great majority of parents who initiated divorce proceedings. As Brinig and Allen tell us, that’s the case nationwide because mothers know to a virtual certainty that they won’t lose custody of their kids when they seek a divorce. And in Brazoria County, Texas, that holds true. Indeed,
Out of 248 cases only 13 cases awarded the male as the primary parent…
11 cases were “Agreed Judgments”
2 cases were “Final Judgment After Non-Jury Trial”
In other words, the family court of Brazoria County, for all practical purposes, never orders a father to be the primary parent following divorce. Very occasionally, the parents present an agreed order calling for that, but that’s essentially the only way a father gets primary custody of his children.
As we’ve seen elsewhere, where orders like that are agreed to, it’s often because Mom is so defective a parent that she knows she hasn’t a prayer of getting custody, so she agrees to let Dad be the main parent. Those are mothers with serious criminal records, substance abuse problems or mental health issues.
The upshot is that, when Mom and Dad are both fit, loving parents, i.e. the vast majority of cases, in Brazoria County, Texas, Dad has no realistic chance of getting 50-50 parenting time or indeed anything over 25%.
And, also as we know, the science on children’s well-being indicates that anything under 35% is contrary to children’s best interests.
Thanks to the Texas Fathers Rights Movement for gathering and disseminating this information. It’s much needed. The more basic information we have about what family courts actually do in custody and parenting time cases, the better.
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Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
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