Texas State Bar Lobbying Arm Caught Misleading Legislators

The Texas Family Law Foundation (TFLF), a lobbying arm of the Texas State Bar, made a recent attack on parental rights bill, HB 453 in Texas; a Bill that puts an equal parenting time option into the family code. TFLF circulated a flyer to the members of the 85th legislature warning that if the legislators passed this bill that they would be doing harm. The Bar has been sued for equal parenting opposition tactics in other states. We investigated their claims and this is what we uncovered.

“Opposition to Shared Parenting comes primarily from State Bar Associations, whose members have an undeniable financial incentive towards conflict,” Molly Olson, President of Leading Women 4 Shared Parenting.

What Kind of Harm Would HB 453 Do?

Reporter John McCaa, with WFAA Channel 8,  reports that right now in Texas “most often the mothers get custody leaving fathers with only visitation.” He says “but a new bill could change the starting point in family courts giving both parents equal custody from the beginning.” Another reporter on the story, Jason Whitely, says that “5 states already have laws like this on the books.” Former Dallas Judge Marilea Lewis says the “legislature should not mandate what to do with children” and says that HB 453 would cause the judges to do nothing more than rubber stamp custody. Marilea also complains that the bill “does not give the court direction as to what that looks like.”

TFLF’s claims in the flyer can be summed up as just a plea to “do no harm” to their attorney members incomes and their egos. We found nothing that could validate their claims.

Through our years of research and as constitutional experts, we have learned that the way the family courts have been going about separating children from fit parents is doing way more harm than the divorce itself or the fact that the parents disagree. Many of the federal appellate courts have made this same statement.

We have also found that there is a tremendous lack of proper training of attorneys and judges for integrating constitutional protections in family law that are necessary to protect children and would eliminate the majority of the problems that are happening to children and their parents in family courts today. This lack of understanding of the proper application of the supreme law is evident in the Texas family code.* Therefore TFLF and the Bresnens do not appear to have updated their information in order to provide the proper guidance necessary for sound policy. TFLF’s flyer and Lynn Kamin’s speech given to the legislator in 2015 demonstrate this to us. The following should provide a glimpse into some of the problems with what they are teaching the legislators.

Who is TFLF?

TFLF represent attorneys who make money off of the current system. TFLF is the lobbying arm of the Texas State Bar Family Law Section. TFLF is made up of family law attorneys and represents their members, who are also family law attorneys. They claim to care about children but what they really care about is money for their members. Every child in the current system loses fundamental constitutional rights. Every child is by default in this current system a loser and here’s why.

The Texas Family Law Foundation (TFLF) has been caught misleading legislators in this flyer in order to preserve the statutes that they have in place to benefit their attorneys.

What are the reasons TFLF Gives for Opposing the equal parenting bill, H.B. 435?

TFLF claims they are opposed to H.B. 453, sponsored by Representative James White, “for a number of reasons.” They claim that men “think” that “current law discriminates against them by making them the “non-primary” parent.”

Steve Bresnen, a lobbyist for TFLF, claims that there is no discrimination. The U.S. Census data numbers would say otherwise.

The data shows that men historically have had their equal rights stripped away and have been turned into noncustodial parents.

There is a real bias that is being ignored.

This data is collected by a neutral source, the U.S. Census Bureau, and clearly shows that there is a bias against men and fathers who have made no gain since at least 1993. It is not surprising that nothing has changed when our own attorney general produces mandatory training for children, called p.a.p.a., designed to enforce these biases. TFLF claims that men have made progress towards equality since the incorporation of “best interest of the child” into the family code yet we continue to see this kind of numerical difference. Let’s put this into perspective. If a woman only made $1.00 for every $5.00 a man makes would they consider that discrimination? Five out of six noncustodial parents are fathers. If that big a difference is a problem in wage differences than it must also be a problem in custody differences.

The family code says they encourage both parents to take an active part in raising the children yet there is a 6:1 difference, what is Texas and TFLF doing to fix that?

TFLF also claims that “if a [noncustodial] parent exercises all their rights under the statute, that parent will have possession of the child on at least, 49% of the days in each year.” Only “3.5 days less than half of the days in a year.”

Not true. Under TFLF’s new math or common core math, 2 hours on Thursday nights equals a full parental day, so by that calculation, on that same Thursday, the other parent should get 44 hours counted right? I wonder if TFLF’s attorney members bill their clients using this same math? If they spend two hours helping you on Thursday, does that mean they bill you for a full day?

Steve Bresnen claims that Texas Family Code SPO is already equal parenting. First of all SPO is less time than the expanded SPO and the expanded SPO still is not “equal.” (Making parents conservators is not equal Steve! Making one parent a primary and the other non-primary or one custodial and the other non-custodial, is not equal. And being able to sweep rights away without applying 14th amendment due process protections is not equal.)

Using plain old fashion arithmetic, here is what the current noncustodial parent’s time really looks like (and this is the maximum expanded standard possession order) currently in the Texas family code statute Sec. 153.317:

What TFLF also does not tell you is that the Texas Family code does nothing to help parents get that access, and the courts make it near impossible and prohibitively expensive. TFLF wants to place the full burden of not exercising that time on the noncustodial parent, however, neither TFLF or the staste of Texas devote any resources whatsoever to enforcing that time and it is prohibitively expensive and in many cases impossible for the noncustodial parent to get that time even after it is awarded.

If the policy of Texas is to encourage both parents to be actively involved and the state of Texas dedicates two-thirds of the attorney general’s office in collecting child support how much Texas resources are devoted to ensuring that the father is able to exercise all of the time that is awarded? What is Texas and TFLF doing to enforce custody and possession?

Where the state of Texas is willing to hire 2,600 employees to enforce child support and zero employees to enforce custody and possession of a child, that tells you exactly what a sham the Texas public policy is.

In addition, the quality of time is not the same. We don’t all recognize the term “Disneyland Dad” because they get the same quality of time that the mother’s get. They are effectively turned into non-parents. These courts are dramatically changing the parental roles in our society. They are conducting a massive social experiment at our children’s expense. And Steve Bresnen, Attorney Stephen J. Naylor and JoAl Cannon Sheridan want you to continue this social experiment so that the state can continue to control private family lives so that their members can profit from it.

Who declared that there has to be a primary and a non-primary parent, a custodial and a non-custodial parent, a winner and a loser parent? Our Constitution doesn’t provide these unequal classes of parent. This, again, is part of the social experiment. The government re-arranging families for the government’s purpose. That’s not what free states do.

Studies show “Parental conflict increases with primary residence arrangements (Bauserman 2012 and 2002, Melli and Brown 2008).”

TFLF claims that HB 453 “could actually reduce the number of days a non-primary parent can get.” If that really was the case, then we are okay with it because we want equal for both sides, EQUALITY UNDER THE LAW. We, unlike them, are not here to play games and keep secrets from the other parent. We are not here to ask you to pick favorites to pick winners and losers. We are asking you to provide equality under the law. What TFLF is doing is revealing to you legislators that they don’t want you to take away the enticement, the big secret, the elephant in the room that they so carefully crafted in your family code that gives them something to entice the parents to pay them big money in order to be the winner parent in this scheme. They want to keep this so difficult that you have to pay an attorney. As long as there is something to win and lose they can keep people afraid of not playing their games. TFLF wants to keep the current complex family code so that they can continue to entice the parents to pay big money to steal the child away from the other. TFLF is against HB 453 because it moves the pendulum towards equality. They do not want equality. There is no PROFIT for their members in equality.

You can see in the language of the bill below. The 5 days that TFLF refers to is put in there to indicate that a difference of more than 5 days would no longer be equal.

TFLF also claims that “a court can already order exactly 50% of the time to each parent.” They know however that judges generally default to what is in the family code because it is safer for them. And, as mentioned, above, HB 453 moves closer to equality and less complexity which means less profits for them.

TFLF says that “Under current law, it’s when parents cannot agree on a schedule that courts make the decision…and that The Family Code focuses on the needs of kids when parents cannot agree.” H.B. 453 does not change any of this.

But, in fact, under current law, children’s rights are being violated. H.B. 453 just moves the law more in the direction it needs to go. Eventually Texas law needs to reflect that parents not agreeing on a schedule is not license to wholesale take over the rights the parents had before this disagreement. If parents disagree, the judge should have a family code available that has the least restrictive schedules available. Equal must always be the starting point constitutionally. The least restrictive for parents in disagreement is equal. The judge’s job is to make sure that each parent can exercise their rights individually and equally without the interference of the other.

The purpose of courts is to protect fundamental rights, not destroy them. The idea that two parents not getting along is reason for a court to violate the constitution is absurd. Lawyers are supposed to protect our constitutional rights and yet here we have 6000 lawyers fighting against your constitutional rights. Something is seriously wrong. This system is profoundly broken when 6000 attorneys get together to fight against preservation of constitutional rights.

Judge Rucker, presented a letter on TFLF’s behalf in October, stating that judges “make mistakes” when determining custody. Moving more towards equality reduces these mistakes. While HB 453 does not actually incorporate any of the necessary constitutional protections to keep judges from making these errors, we feel it is important to mention here to you what applying constitutional protections would do.

Applying constitutional protections would reduce errors judges make by choosing one parent over the other. Adjudication and a balancing test that accounts for the risk of error by judges would certainly go a long way to fix this. The standard method the courts use to reduce error is to raise the standard of evidence. If they really wanted to reduce errors, they would agree that we should raise the standard of evidence in family law. By increasing the standard of constitutional review and increasing the standard of evidence, you reduce the risk of judges making mistakes and decrease the things that need to be litigated, thus decreasing litigation overall. This would mean clear and convincing evidence and strict scrutiny constitutional review. This is what would be appropriate given the nature of the parental rights at stake and the devastating harm these courts do to families. The legislature can set this any time it chooses.

Judge Rucker, told the legislators in this letter, that these are the most important rights a judge could ever decide. Important rights deserve the highest protections. The children deserve these protections, don’t you think? Important rights deserve adjudication. They deserve constitutional guarantees. They deserve clear and convincing evidentiary standards. This is what protects children from attorney games. This is what protects children from lobbyists willing to use children to protect those games. Why is it that parents have to explain this to judges and attorneys and lawmakers? They are supposed to be the experts. They are supposed to know these basic things. Why is their thinking in family law so twisted?

TFLF has gone unchecked and been allowed to mislead Texas legislators for far too long, and the results of this undermining of our children’s constitutional protections is now being seen in the growing numbers of children harmed by the laws and policies that TFLF is trying to protect. It’s time for legislators to listen to the people, to the parents, those people we all know care the most about their children. Lobbyists clearly don’t.

Under the current law children are being alienated from fit and loving parents, children are developing more behavior problems, more mental health problems, more educational problems, and are less likely to taking care of their elderly kin.

Family law reform is the tort reform of two decades ago. Just as the attorneys corrupted the tort system in this state, to the detriment of our business community, the attorneys are corrupting our family law system to the detriment of our children, our families, and our communities.

The “current law” that TFLF so proudly defends is damaging Texas and hurting the very children they claim to protect, running a dangerous social experiment with their futures. The current law is protecting their attorneys’ paychecks, but certainly not the children. The legislators have tons of research showing them that children suffer less when they are protected to be with both of their parents. The person who always loses their constitutional rights in the current system is the child.

  • “Children in shared arrangements experienced much less initial distress at parental separation. Four years later, the children reported in interviews that they had not experienced the feeling of loss of one parent, nor adjustment problems (Pearson, J., & Thoennes, N. (1991).)

And we know that parents and children suffer less when they are protected from costly and lengthy litigation. You have no proof that HB 453 will cost more litigation. And if you were really that concerned about the family code litigation costs, implementing proper constitutional protections so that single and divorced parents in disagreement with the other parent didn’t have to worry whether a court would protect those rights without invading their privacy and putting them through legal hell, and without using their child as a threat of being taken, and if the codes did not require the parents to prove they were better than the other, if there was no winner and loser, you would have less litigation. You have no evidence that 50/50 is any more litigation than your current system without 50/50 in it. And, by the way, you claim 50/50 is already in the statute, so why care about this Bill then? This bill does not affect judicial discretion. The judge still does not have to award it just like a judge does not have to award SPO. What’s the real issue Steve? Worried that parents are figuring out that they have rights and you don’t want your judges to have to put the reasons they are taking those rights?

  • Analysis of 50 North American studies conclude that equal parenting was associated with less parental conflict and less relitigation (Bauserman 2012)

TFLF lists that “…if a non-primary parent has substantially fewer days of possession than the other parent, it means a court has found that it is in the best interest of the child not to provide approximately equal time.” TFLF never says that HB 453 will prevent a judge from doing this still. And in fact HB 453 does nothing to limit a judge from being able to conduct their unconstitutional invasion of family privacy.

We have busted all of the reasons that TFLF and the Bresnens have given for opposing this bill. Perhaps they need to reconsider their position since the only way that they can defeat this bill is to make stuff up.

This list that TFLF provides is nothing more than a list of social manipulation factors that our courts are using to socially engineer relationships between fit parents who have never been proven to be unfit. This is big government social programs on the grandest scale. What they describe is nothing less than pure socialism and the price is paid by children, by parents, and by the communities.

  • Children sharing residences equally, have lower likelihood of experiencing high levels of stress. (Turunen, J. 2014)

TFLF complains that “H.B. 453 treats an infant the same as a 14 year-old.” There is nothing in H.B. 453 that changes judicial discretion of the judge. The judge has the same ability to determine when a child should not have equal time with their parents with H.B. 453 law as they do under “current law.”

TFLF claims that “child support is not determined by how many days each parent sees the child, nor should it be.” Then they go into a diatribe about reasons they feel a parent would not want to pay the other parent. If HB 453 does not affect child support then why are they worried about whether another parent wants to pay the other would not be relevant. Why even raise the issue, move on.

MYTH:               TFLF claims that “Current law reduces litigation.” 

(This is also wrong. Does Steve have some sort of alternative facts different from the ones that the courts collect than we provide here?)

FACT:               False. The “current law” does not reduce litigation. It was reported by the courts throughout Texas through their data collection and reporting requirements that family law litigation increased last year to the second highest level ever in family law. Post-judgment and modification cases saw the largest increase and are 40% of the total filings in district court, up 16% from last year according to the report made by the courts and reported here.

So, who are you going to believe a lobby group who depends on the income generated by these cases or the data collected by the courts?

What else isn’t The Family Law Section of the Texas Family Law Foundation telling You?

TFLF isn’t telling the legislators that family law cases take longer than any other kind of case to work its way through the system. The clearance rate for family law cases from filing to final disposition is only 75% in comparison to all other types of cases of over 94%. Every delay and dollar spent in a case is a day and a dollar taken away from a child’s life of stability, protection, and bonding with both parents equally.

What TFLF doesn’t want you to realize is that a constitutionally compliant family law system would not only dramatically reduce litigation it would dramatically reduce the number of judges we need in the system. It would lower state budgets it would lower costs for the states and it would get the state out of social engineering.

Why is it so hard to accept that divorced parents and their children deserve constitutional rights just as much as everybody else? Why do we have so little faith in our constitution that we do not think that it is up to the task of protecting children and their parents in divorce? Why is it judges and attorneys who are telling us not to have faith in our constitution?

Socialism and social engineering always cost more and more. It is the nature of the beast. Socialism never gets enough government money, it always needs more. A system based on constitutional rights by default limits litigation because you have standards of constitutional review and standards of evidence that make it very hard to deprive the other fit parent of rights, which means there is no point in going to court in the first place. It means parents have to find a way to work through their problems. It means divorce isn’t a way to avoid your problems. And it just might reduce the number of divorces when they realize that they cannot steal everything from their partner by emotionally manipulating a judge.

We support and ask for the rule of law, which means conforming to the supreme law of our land, the United States Constitution, and not having legal systems that depend solely on how effectively one side can emotionally manipulate a judicial officer. This is what reduces litigation, reduces harm to children, and reduces morbidity and violence in society.

Would H.B. 453 Increase Litigation?

TFLF claims that “If H.B. 453 were to become law, people with existing custody orders who still can’t co-parent amicably with their exes will flood into courts trying to get a redo” and that H.B. 453 would not be able to prevent this, claiming that it would be not able to do so constitutionally.

H.B. 453 does not change any of this. This bill does not change judicial discretion.

Funny they would mention constitutionally. That’s the only time they have ever raised a constitutional issue. The current system is anything but constitutional. Our system is one where the fundamental constitutional rights of parents and children can be infringed and outright denied based on nothing more than a mere opinion of a sole government official. Anyone who thinks such a system is constitutionally compliant knows nothing about the constitution or the guarantees that document provides. This system stands only because it has been shielded from constitutional review in federal courts and state courts are protecting their own power.

If TFLF is worried about retroactivity. TFLF is very familiar with how to make a bill not retroactive. TFLF could make a suggestion to add a not retroactive provision or even a statement in the bill that the passage of this bill is not a cause of action that can be used to modify a current final order, into the bill to resolve that issue. They don’t do either of these because it is not in their best interest to help parents get more fair and just treatment in the courts.

What facts has TFLF presented?

TFLF has presented nothing more than propaganda and misleading facts. They have not supported their claims with any data. They put together a misleading calculation of possession time and that was about it.

So what the legislators really have is a lobbyist organization (TFLF) collecting a lot of money to protect the money of their members. They have become the gatekeepers to your family rights in Texas. The Texas Family Law Foundation’s conduct and misleading information and presentations can be equated to nothing more than an overgrown temper tantrum. They get upset about someone other than a lawyer within their organization presenting an improvement to the family code that is not under their total control. And they use smear campaign tactics and inflammatory statements. They are upset because if we make the family code constitutional none of them will have any business in your pocketbooks and won’t be able to use your children as pawns to manipulate and coerce parents into padding their pockets. They are upset because they will have to find another racket where they can take advantage of people.

The real issue is that the Attorney General is the one who fears the loss of child support. 62% of the attorney general’s staff depends on child support money from the federal government. (See post on this here.) TFLF is afraid that any equal parenting changes would reduce litigation and reduce the money they earn off of the conflict. Afterall, this is a $50 billion dollar business nationwide. True, the bill has nothing in it that directly affects child support. Untrue that the proponents believe that this bill is going to be the end of child support. The proponents of this bill are fit and loving parents wanting to be with their children, not a bar of attorneys looking to protect their paychecks. The proponents of this bill are fit and loving parents who did not receive fair and equal treatment who have lost faith and trust in the family courts and know that this bill does not fix the unconstitutionality of the Texas family code but that it is a step in the right direction.

TFLF’s poor and unsupported claims indicate that they are desperate. They have nothing left than to manipulate the facts and the legislators to try and use the influence that they have built up since 2001. Sheridan and Naylor reminded the legislators that they are there every week, two people a week, including the Bresnans, for them to confer with and ask questions about the bills. They have positioned themselves as the “go-to” authorities for when the legislators don’t know the answer to something. You can see the power dynamics and how the legislators cower to this group when they are in committee. TFLF is hoping to hang on to this power dynamic. They are hoping that the mere threat of their numbers and constant presence and financial backing will be enough to hang on to that monopolized power that they see coming to an end.

Legislators ask yourself this one thing, “Who has a greater interest in reducing litigation and the cost associated with litigation, fit parents who merely want to be equal parents in their child’s lives or trial lawyers who make their living through litigation. Remember this, TORT REFORM. This is the same dynamic that we saw that drove tort reform.

The lawyers are feeding at the trough and bankrupting everybody else in the process.

If they cannot do this to married fit parents what right do they have to do it to divorced fit parents and their children? Why is the state punishing parents who make a constitutionally protected choice regarding marriage? Why are attorneys encouraging the state to punish parents who make constitutionally protected choices? Why are these attorneys not fighting for our constitutional rights? What has happened? What is wrong with our system? Attorneys are supposed to protect rights not fight against them? Are all 6000 attorneys in the bar in support of violating constitutional rights?

The first several minutes of TFLF’s presentation to the Juvenile Justice & Family Issues committee this week, Wednesday, February 22, 2017, on the video below was Sheridan trumping up their organization. Letting the committee know how thorough they are and that they should be trusted. But when you really look at what they presented it was nothing but fluff and alternative facts. She doesn’t hide the fact that they have a “vested interest” in protecting the current law which generates a very lucrative living for their members off of those parents, grandparents, and other family members, and as an amicus.

You can watch future meetings live here every Wednesday or watch the archived video here after the meeting.

Chairman Dutton says that he goes to Steve Bresnen to help guide him on family law. Let Representative Dutton know to come to you, the parent for guidance on how family law has affected you. You are the expert in your family and you are the expert that they should be going to. Are the legislators your representatives or are they the attorneys’ representatives?

If left up to Bresnen and Sheridan and the other 6000 members of The Family Law Foundation Section your rights will continue to be under their control.

TFLF informed Dutton and the others that they have two members in the Capitol for free to advise them. Sheridan tries to make them out like they are there to represent and protect all family members, and the amicus. It is pretty clear that they are protecting their policies to protect their practices.

Naylor says that they are also going to be recommending legislation “to bring the family code into supreme court decisions.” He begrudgingly says “the courts are already ruling that way, but we are going to have to bring this in.”

We have seen the bills he is talking about regarding bringing in supreme court decisions. The bills that they are talking about this session however do not protect parents who are in disagreement with the other parent. One of these bills is SB 815 and . These bills do not protect disagreeing parents and in fact leaves an out for the judges when dealing with parents in disagreement. The Texas Homeschool Coalition wrote these bills.

Naylor also says that TFLF will oppose any bills that “drastically increase family law litigation.” The current laws already drive parents into bankruptcy. What about bills that would decrease litigation? They have not seemed interested in those. Wonder why. Follow the money.

We have suggested bills to the legislators that would bring the family code more in compliance with supreme court rulings that protect all parents and children, including parents in disagreement, that would decrease litigation. Guess what each of them ask, “What does The Family Law Foundation think?” Wonder why. Follow the money.

Naylor finishes with saying how proud he is with TFLF and that they have won the pro bono large section award. They go around the state putting on CLE programs. They aren’t teaching constitutional rights applied to family law in these CLE courses. We know this because it is reflected in their words and their behaviors. Naylor reminds the committee that they “have people on the ground” at the Capitol and tells the committee to contact Steve and Amy Bresnen and that they “will get you the answer as fast as possible.” How mighty nice of them to offer to continue to provide their services for free to protect their gravy train.

Chairman Dutton takes Naylor up on the offer and asks him about whether best interest is a legal standard or a factual standard. We cover that in another post here. The legislative committee admits that they have never contemplated any statute regarding that issue.

TFLF has been known to kill equal parenting bills for many years. Lynn Kamin, also a member of TFLF, spoke against the equal parenting bill, HB 2363, in 2015, sponsored by former councilman Pena, during the 84th legislative session. That bill died. It never made it out of the calendar committee.

Who is on The Juvenile Justice & Family Issues Committee for the 85th Session?

See what other laws are affecting families in Texas. This one indoctrinates the youth in our high schools and leads to alienating behaviors which leads to parental alienation.

Children being used to address Trump in an NBC propaganda piece:

*We are not attorneys. We do not practice law. Nothing on this website is a practice of law and serves an important public interest and is protected under the 1st amendment.

**This post was written as a rebuttal to TFLF circulating a flyer opposing HB 453 – an equal parenting bill (50/50)