Monday, the 25th of April was National Parental Alienation Awareness Day and reformers call for shared parenting laws to prevent parental alienation. The?National Parents Organization, along with other similarly organized groups, is campaigning for education, awareness and reform of state child custody and possession laws that they argue, lead to parental alienation and cause harm to children, whose parental bonds with the non-custodial parent may suffer. Shared parenting laws are customary in some states and shared parenting advocates pay close attention, to collect and share responsive data. The laws here in Texas are structured with a traditional model where one custodial parent is the possessory parent and the other has structured visitation, often every other weekend and on Thursday evenings. However, as more collaborative co-parenting models are used with success, more judges are apt to consider shared parenting, encouraging parties to come to agreement on an agreed parenting plan in the best interests of the child. While shared parenting laws or legal presumptions are not the current standard in Texas, the community of family law attorneys nationwide are paying close attention to shared parenting and its impact on families.
Traditional sole custody and visitation versus shared parenting models
Since the baby boomer generation started divorcing, and long before that, the tradition has been for the children to stay in the home with mom and dad got his own place but paid for the family expenses. Children would see dad on weekends spend some time with him on summer vacation. To an extent, this was a working situation for a long time because it is what people expected to occur. Until recent years, the concept of shared or equal parenting time seemed shocking.
In a shared parenting model, the children may have equal time with both parents and live equally between two homes. It is still a challenge for many to say which the main residence of the children is. Even if the children share two residences and have equal time with both parents, there will likely be a designation among parents as to which is the primary residence for the children. In some instances, the parents worked out a schedule where the children stay in one home and the parents take turns living there with the children.
Most courts, especially in Texas, will apply the traditional standard possession order giving the non-possessory parent every other weekend and Thursday evenings. However, parents are encouraged and within their rights to agree to equal parenting time, and if the children are also on board, the co-parenting situation can be effective for years.
Parental alienation: An unintended consequence inherent in traditional custody laws?
While married, husband and wife are intended to function as a team, both in their marriage and as parents. In divorce, ex-spouses still have the option to function as a team in co-parenting, especially when there is a shared parenting plan. Otherwise, with the traditional model, and despite our best efforts otherwise, one parent will be treated and function as the primary dominant parent, the parent who won sole conservatorship and possession.
Parental alienation, a potentially unintended consequence of co-parenting, is the “ability of a parent to manipulate or brainwash a child’s mind to hate and exclude the other parent from his or her life. It is a distinctive family response to divorce in which one parents forms an alliance with the child or children against the other parent through a campaign of hatred and denigration. Despite our best efforts, the reform movements suggest we may engage in parental alienation behaviors without intending to do so.
In society, we have become conditioned to think that the better parent is the one with custody, the one with whom the children should live. What is so wrong about the other parent, we ask. Is the non-custodial parent working too many long hours? Do they have substance issues? Do they live in a tiny studio apartment after the divorce?
In the alternative, where there is a shared parenting plan, and neither parent is held out as superior to the other, or the winner/loser, there is a better chance that co-parenting and teamwork will produce the happiest children and families. More frequently nowadays, there are family law advocacy groups like the National Parents Organization that speak up and educate and increase awareness about share parenting and the benefits to children and families. As more divorcing couples consider equal co-parenting arrangements, they may give it a shot. For example, if before the Temporary Orders Hearing in a Texas divorce, the parents may agree to a shared possession parenting agreement and see if it works well. If not, the parties can always return to the traditional standard possession order.
Whether to change the law or encourage shared parenting by agreement where it is a viable option
The efforts of advocacy groups looking to change family law codes are pushing for legal presumptions that shared parenting time is in the best interests of children. The law in the Texas Family Code currently favors the traditional model, where there is a primary conservator parent with possession of the child and rights to determine the child’s residence; the other parent has possession and access to the child every other weekend, Thursday evenings and extra time in the summer.
Opponents of advocates for changing the family laws in several states suggest that every parenting situation and family is unique, no single presumption fits all. If a Texas parent going through divorce wants shared parenting time, they may agree to such an arrangement with the other parent, or they may ask the court to consider a shared parenting arrangement, thus deviating from the statutory presumption favoring the traditional model. Some children may thrive in a shared parenting environment, and others may dislike such a situation. Remember, that there is a difference between what parents wants and how children respond. It is best to be open to different options.
Dallas and Collin County Board Certified divorce and family law attorney,?Mark Scroggins, along with their team at Scroggins Law Group?advise and represent North Texas families with all their legal issues, including custody and visitation matters.
At Scroggins Law Group, our Dallas and Collin County divorce attorneys have more than over 24 years of collective experience with family law cases. When you retain our firm, you can trust that your case is in the hands of a highly skilled, dedicated professional. we understand the unique challenges of a high value divorce case, and more importantly, have the knowledge and experience you need on your side. Call us today to learn more about Texas divorce and family law: (214) 469-3100.
*Mark L. Scroggins is *board-certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Unless otherwise noted, other attorneys are not *board-certified.
**Super Lawyers (a Thomson Reuters service, awarded to Mark Scroggins 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021)
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