Equal Parenting Time: Will it Work for your Family?

***UPDATE***
House Bill 2363, discussed below, did not become law. Now it is 2017, the Texas Legislature is back in session, and a new “Equal Parenting” bill has been introduced. House Bill 453 contains most of the same provisions, and problems, that were found in last session’s HB 2363. As before, the bill mistakenly focuses on the DESIRES OF THE PARENT, rather than the NEEDS OF THE CHILD. GoransonBain Ausley family lawyers are ready, willing, and able to help you craft a divorce or modification agreement that provides equal parenting time. But equal parenting time should not be the default “law of the land.” It should only be implemented if it’s right for your children. If it is, we will work with you to consider the schedule, logistics, and financial arrangements necessary for this plan to succeed.


 

GoransonBain Ausley- baby boyKing Solomon was said to have been given the great gift of wisdom. Most of us are familiar with the biblical story of the sound judgment he displayed when faced with two women fighting over a baby, each claiming the child as her own. Solomon drew his sword and proposed a solution: let’s cut the baby in two, and each of you can have half. Of course the real mother cried out at this suggestion, and begged the king to give the child to the other woman, rather than destroy him. This gut reaction proved that this woman was the baby boy’s true mother; Solomon preserved the child’s life and awarded him to his rightful parent.

As family lawyers, we often yearn for the wisdom of Solomon when we are helping parties negotiate a divorce involving conservatorship and possession of children. We know that the Court is bound to order a schedule that is in the child’s best interest, without regard to what is necessarily “fair” to either parent. But parents in the midst of a divorce often get caught up parsing out weekends, hours and even minutes in an effort to make sure that they will each have a “fair” amount of time with their children . . . often without regard to how the children themselves will be affected.

Proposed House Bill 2363 and What It Could Mean For You

This type of thinking is reflected in new legislation that has been proposed in the Texas House of Representatives this session.  If enacted, House Bill 2363 would require our Courts to presume that virtually all parents should have “equal” parenting time.  The children’s time cannot be split any less equally than 180 days per year for one parent and 185 for the other.  Even Steven.  One for you, one for me.  Split the baby.  Is this starting to sound familiar?  And not very Solomon-like in terms of considering what is best for specific families and their own unique situations?

Proposed HB 2363 contains other serious flaws.  One of the bill’s three possible 50/50 schedules requires children to spend four weeks with one parent, and then four weeks with the other parent, throughout each year.  Not one of the experienced family attorneys at Goranson Bain has ever even heard of a divorced family operating on such a schedule.  Nor can we imagine that it would be in the best interest of most children to live this way!  Moreover, the bill is silent on many other important issues that must be resolved for a 50/50 schedule to be successful.  GoransonBain Ausley- LegislationWhat if the divorced parents reside a great distance from one another?  How will it be decided where the children attend school?  Will child support be ordered?  If so, will child support be computed using the same guidelines that apply to a family with a standard possession order?  And if there is no child support ordered, what process will be used to share the cost of items that go beyond the children’s “usual daily expenses” (new soccer cleats, field trip fees, presents for birthday parties, sleep away camp, club dues, and on and on).

This new legislation probably will not pass.  It certainly should not pass in its current form.  Texas law already allows our courts to approve an Agreed Decree of Divorce with a non-standard possession schedule, so long as the terms for conservatorship, possession and support are in the children’s best interest.  Equal parenting time already exists in Texas, and many of our clients are living under Decrees that contain this arrangement.  On a daily basis, we negotiate 50/50 schedules, and our lawyers and paralegals work hard to ensure that Agreed Final Decrees of Divorce contain all the provisions necessary for a smooth and workable co-parenting arrangement, of which “equal parenting time” is just one feature.

When a 50/50 Parenting Schedule Is a Good Solution

Many families in today’s society have parents who both work outside the home and take equal responsibility for raising and caring for the children at home.  For these types of families, equal parenting makes sense.  But this arrangement requires a high level of cooperation and a low level of animosity between the divorced parents.  That’s why mandatory court-ordered “equal parenting time” does not make much sense (at least not until a more thoughtfully drafted, comprehensive default plan can be devised).  Only the highest conflict divorce cases usually make it to a trial where the Judge imposes the parenting schedule; and those are the cases least suited for 50/50 possession and shared decision-making.  On the other hand, if a divorce involves two parents who can focus on the needs of their children and reach agreements, then a negotiated 50/50 schedule can be an excellent solution.

Questions to Start With

GoransonBain Ausley- equal parentingAre you contemplating or facing divorce, and do you believe that your children would benefit from equal parenting time? Our experienced divorce lawyers in Dallas, Plano and Austin are prepared to help you better understand and explore this option.  We suggest you start by answering the following questions:

  • Is your soon-to-be-ex-spouse open to the idea of a 50/50 schedule?
  • Are you willing to live within 10 – 15 miles of each other after the divorce?
  • Will you and your ex be able to agree on the best schools for your children if you are living in different school districts or attendance zones?
  • Will you have a system to equalize the payment of expenses for the children?  Or will one parent be willing to pay child support to the other?
  • Will both parents be able to juggle your work schedules to meet the demands of school drop-offs, pick-ups, and transportation for children’s activities?
  • Do you believe you will have the appetite and ability to maintain frequent and productive communication with your ex?
  • Are you likely to be able to work together to make joint decisions about your children’s medical and mental health care, among other important issues?
  • If you or your spouse remarries, do you feel you will be able to continue co-parenting with this high level of coordination and cooperation?

If you have answered “probably” or “yes” to most of these questions, an equal parenting plan may be the wise choice for your family.

This post was written by Esther Donald.