This blog article is from Angela Pence England and Harry Tindall, partners at Tindall England, PC, a Houston-based law firm specializing in matrimonial and family law.
The 2015 Texas Legislative session has come to an end, and while no legislative changes were made to expand collaborative law, there were a record number of changes to the Texas Family Code. Most changes occurred in Title 5 (Parent-Child Relationship) but several changes were also made to Titles 1, 2, and 4.
Title 1 (Marriage Relationship)
Senate Bill 813 expanded use of digitized signatures in Title 1 cases, but the control of the signature must remain with the person using such digitized signature. On the other hand, a digitized signature is specifically not allowed to waivers of service (Senate Bill 814).
Senate Bill 815 updates temporary restraining orders to acknowledge the world of electronic messages, electronically stored property, and the potential for tampering or destroying such material. It is also a prime example of when the Texas Family Law Practice Manual can be made law, as the list of “divorce don’t’s" has now officially been expanded to mirror what has been in the forms manual for some time.
Senate Bill 2065 allows a member of the clergy and other religious organizations to decline to perform a marriage if to do so would violate the officiant’s sincerely held religious beliefs.
Title 2 (Child in Relation to Family)
House Bill 3994 places new restrictions on judicial bypass for a minor to consent to an abortion without parental consent. New restrictions include limitations on venue, prohibition on appearing by videoconferencing, a standard of clear and convincing evidence, and disclosure of the judge authorizing the abortion. Senate Bill 814 also specifically adds that waivers of service are allowed in Title 2 suits to remove disability for minors and name changes.
Title 4 (Protective Orders and Family Violence)
There are number of changes dealing with protective orders and family violence. First, Senate Bill 817 makes a number of penal code, code of criminal procedure, and family code amendments that make clear that trafficking activities amount to family violence. Additionally, House Bill 1782 creates a presumption of family violence if the respondent has a previous conviction for family violence or received deferred adjudication for family violence.
Title 5 (Parent-Child Relationship)
This Title has 834 changes, but many are nomenclature only and nonsubstantive. Nevertheless, many substantive changes were enacted.
House Bill 1449 sets out requirements for appointment of a child custody evaluator. Extensive details on education, training, full-time practice, and conflicts of interest, as well as setting forth rules for conducting the evaluations and retention of records are included. Similar requirements are established for adoption evaluators. This bill is 40 pages long, and careful study is recommended. (Note: As of today, it has not yet been signed by the Governor.)
House Bill 3003 creates an Office of Child Representation and Office of Parent Representation and authorizes counties to create theses office for providing representation for children and parents in state action termination cases, much like a traditional “public defender office” in criminal matters.
Senate Bill 550 authorizes the court to order dental insurance for child and is a significant piece of legislation. However it does not take effect until September 1, 2018.
Senate Bill 3538 enacts an entirely new Subchapter H to UIFSA to capture the applicability of UIFSA to international Hague Convention cases. This will mostly apply to IV-D agencies collecting and enforcing child support orders from Hague Convention cases but also allows for private enforcement.
Senate Bill 206 was the Department of Family and Protective Services sunset legislation. The bill makes extensive revisions to the handling of cases of state supervised cases of children in foster care and is 80 pages long.
What didn’t happen
Most notably, the Uniform Collaborative Act being added to the Civil Practice & Remedies Code for applicability beyond the family code was not passed. Also, there were a number of much talked about amendments that did not pass. Legislative attempts at providing for covenant marriage and a 180 day waiting period for divorces failed. A bill that would have created a presumption for equal parenting time also did not gain muster. Finally, after a very colourful floor debate, a bill that would completely bar the application of any foreign law to family law matters, was also defeated.