Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that as many as 20 states are considering pro-dad legislation to help fathers get more 50-50 custody arrangements. So what’s up in the state of Texas? According to Connatser Family Law Attorney Abby Gregory, “While there isn’t any pending pro-dad legislation in Texas, the trend toward dads getting more custody is on the rise here. This is promising news for dads, but I wouldn’t say it’s the norm.”
Connatser Family Law client Bill Andrews* has experienced the Texas divorce and child custody landscape first hand. “Divorce is a roller coaster ride, especially when a child is involved. Fortunately, the first question Aubrey Connatser asked me – ‘What is your goal?’ – helped me survive those ups and downs.”
Bill’s goal was to get 50 percent custody of his 5-year-old son, and he says, “Focusing on Thomas* when I felt low or frustrated allowed me to persevere during the process.” The age of Bill’s son probably also worked in his favor.
Dads Have a Better Shot at 50-50 Custody Today
“Dads have come a long way. It’s no longer an automatic that the mom will get primary custody. While it’s less likely with very young children, where the courts still tend to grant custody to the mom, it’s different with older children. Today, when older children are involved, dads have a real shot at 50-50,” Abby says.
For Bill, gaining 50-50 custody of his son was an uphill battle. Bill feels, “Society still tends to assume that kids should go with the mom, but unfortunately, that’s not always in the best interest of the child. There needs to be more balance. So I took a stand and said no.
I’m super involved with my son, and I want him to grow up and say, ‘my dad was there for that basketball game, and my dad taught me how to fish.’ I knew if I didn’t have joint custody of my son, there would be important things in life he’d miss out on, and I didn’t want that to happen.”
For dads such as Bill, getting 50-50 custody isn’t about getting out of paying child support, as some moms allege. It’s about playing an active role in their children’s lives. According to Abby, “In Texas, dads with a 50-50 do not need to pay guideline child support, though some contribution (whether it be for tuition, extracurricular activities, medical expenses, etc.) can go a long way both in mediation and in the court room.”
The Generational Shift Toward Dual Parenting Is Good for Dads
The fact that Bill was (and is) a “super involved dad,” and that his legal team was able to demonstrate that to the court, were likely important factors in Bill winning 50-50 custody of Thomas.
According to Abby, “The trend of dads getting more favorable custody rulings is likely a direct result of the generational shift toward dual parenting. Dads take on more parenting responsibilities now. The shift is also reflective of the growing number of stay-at-home dads and the fact that many more moms work outside the home today.”
Unless the parties have a substantial estate, both mom and dad will have to work post-divorce. Women aren’t able to live off of the kids’ child support anymore, so more women are going back to work, which puts both parties on a more even playing field.
Dads Work Schedules Are More Kid Friendly Too
“Many dads aren’t stuck to the traditional 9 to 6, in-the-office structure anymore, where they would be unable to participate in after school activities. Along with flexible work hours and the ability to work remotely, dads can really be more involved, and more family courts are recognizing that change,” Abby says.
Bill and many dads like him are frustrated they need to fight to prove they should get 50-50 custody versus moms having to prove why dads shouldn’t have 50-50 custody. “It takes a father AND a mother to raise a child, but the court system today puts many dads in a defensive mode. Fortunately for me, I had great attorneys to help me wind my way down that path,” Bill says.
While many Texas dads face big hurdles to win 50-50 or primary custody, they may fare better here than in other states. As Abby explains, “Texas is fairly open-minded when it comes to dads getting custody. The Expanded Standard Possession Schedule in the Texas Family Code is roughly a 45-55 split. Unless you are clearly an inept parent, it’s really difficult not to get an Expanded Standard Possession Schedule in Texas.”
5 Steps Dads Should Take If They Want Custody of Their Kids
If you are a dad (or mom) contemplating divorce and hope to secure 50-50 or primary custody of your children, you should:
1. Speak with an experienced family law attorney right away.
He or she can advise you on the best steps to take before, during and after divorce to improve your odds of securing the custody arrangements you seek for the short- and long-term.
2. Avoid moving out of the marital residence without your kids.
“When possible, aspiring primary parents shouldn’t move out and leave their children behind. Unless you have safety concerns, stay in the family home until you have a hearing and the judge orders one party to vacate the marital residence. If you have to leave, for whatever reason, take the kids with you,” Abby advises.
3. Stay the course with your parental duties.
According to Abby, “We tell all our clients, judges really like to do the status quo. You should not abandon parental duties because it’s tense in the home, especially before a divorce. Even if it’s been 6 months since you changed diapers, you need to keep doing bath time, homework, carpool and all of those things.”
4. Keep a calendar.
“Before you file for divorce, keep a calendar that reflects who handles various parental responsibilities and who is present at any of your child’s activities, school meetings and doctor’s appointments. You should also note when you and your spouse travel for work. Keep in mind, if you travel a lot for work and can’t be flexible with the dates you have your children, it’s going to be hard to get primary custody,” Abby says.
5. Focus on your goals every day.
When other dads come to Bill for advice about surviving divorce and child custody disputes, he tells them to write down the top two or three items that are most important to them. “I tell other dads to focus on those goals every day, just like I focused on Thomas and how I could never replace him or my time spent with him. Personal property is replaceable, my son isn’t,” Bill says.
* Client name, name of client’s child and minor details have been changed.