January 28, 2019 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
Here’s a must-see video about the resistance to equal parenting in Texas. It’s by Wayne Dolcefino, who’s never been my favorite television journalist. Dolcefino has a track record that leans heavily on shouting and much less on principled examination of issues. Years ago, he was a product of the television news industry in which scandal and crisis are the quick route to a successful career. And, if the news happens to be short of either, well, what’s an ambitious reporter to do but create some?
But in the video, Dolcefino is his more mature, considered self. He’s still raking muck, but this time he gets his facts straight.
He starts with a boy, Jeremy Johnston, who looks to be about 14. He’s sitting in the living room of a house. Beside him on a sofa are his mother, father, stepmother and stepfather, all of whom seem to be getting along fine. How do they manage that? As Jeremy’s stepmother points out, they do so by behaving like adults. They get along. And they’re all focused on Jeremy’s welfare first and whatever grievances they have with each other, they put to the side.
Jeremy remarks about the difference in his life between sole and equal parenting: “If I had a list, it’d be from here to the moon how much better [50/50 parenting] is.”
From that, Dolcefino seques to the question “Why aren’t Texas lawmakers paying attention [to children’s welfare and shared parenting]?” Unsurprisingly, he has the answer – lobbyists for family lawyers.
They come in the form of the Texas Family Law Foundation that’s composed almost exclusively of lawyers. They pay lobbyists like Steve Bresnen very, very big bucks to kill family court reform like equal parenting bills that threaten the lawyer’s thick pocketbooks.
Now, Texas family law includes sections that spell out in minute detail what parenting time orders judges may issue. Of course if parents agree on parenting time, they’re free to draft their own order that is then usually rubberstamped by the judge. But if they don’t agree, the judge can issue one of two types of order, the Standard Possession Order or the Expanded Possession Order. The Standard Order is the overwhelming favorite of Texas judges.
What’s most remarkable is how the Texas Family Law Foundation represents the Standard Order when it lobbies the legislature. Put simply, it lies. Really. Dolcefino’s video includes a TFLF lobbyist testifying before the Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Issues claiming that the Standard Order gives the non-custodial parent 47% of the parenting time. That is false.
The law establishing the Standard Order is easy to read. It provides for every other weekend, two hours every Thursday, 30 days during the summer, every other Fathers and Mothers Day, every other Thanksgiving and part of the time during Christmas break. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that that adds up to about 26% of the parenting time, i.e. far too little to give the child the scientifically-established benefits of shared parenting.
By what alchemy does the TFLF turn 26% into 47%? Readers may not be surprised to learn that they lie. You see when the law says every other weekend from 6 PM on Friday to 6 PM on Sunday, the TFLF figures that’s three days. I’m not making this up. Yes, from 6 PM Friday to 6 PM Saturday is one day and again to 6 PM on Sunday is one more day, for a total of two days, but the TFLF has decided it’s actually three.
But that’s not all. Remember those two hours every Thursday night? Most people call that, well, two hours. Not so the TFLF. It calls those two hours 24 hours, i.e. a full day. And when all that’s added on to what the Standard Order actually provides, it comes up to, by my calculation, about 45% of the time. I guess the TFLF just tossed in a couple of extra percentage points to gild the lily.
The point being that this is what passes for sensible lobbying and law making in Texas. Worse, it’s what passes for acting in the best interests of children. Needless to say, it’s neither.
And of course the whole sorry business serves only the lawyers. They take parental conflict to the bank and in Texas, as elsewhere, they fear shared parenting laws’ potential to reduce that conflict. Reduced conflict means reduced fees for lawyers and we can’t have that, now can we. Hey, they’ve got yacht payments to make.
As Jeremy Johnston’s mother so accurately said, “You’re not making any money off of four people who get along.” Truer words were never spoken. They’re words the TFLF and its hired guns hope no Texas legislator will ever hear.
Thanks to Ben for the heads-up.
NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission. All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.