Top 10 Legislative Changes in 2019 that Every Family Law Practitioner Should Know
by Taylor Imel and May Burkett
The Texas Legislature convenes every two years, with 2019 being one of those years. In the 2019 legislative session, minor changes were made to the Texas Family Code, as well as to other related laws, with nothing detrimentally affecting the practice of family law. However, an astute family law practitioner should be aware of the following Legislative changes1:
1. Child Support Increase: Inflation Sets In
Every six years the Texas Legislature adjusts that the “cap” on monthly net resources used in computing guideline child support. This adjustment is based on the percentage change in the consumer price index. Previously, the “cap” was $8,550, which meant that the guideline child support maximum for one child was $1,710. Effective September 1, 2019, any cases filed on or after that date are subject to the new “cap” of $9,200, meaning that the guideline child support maximum for one child is now $1,840.
2. Rights and Duties: Don’t Forget Your Passport
Under 153.132, the rights and duties of a parent appointed sole managing conservator or joint managing conservator have been amended to include the right to apply for a passport for a child, the right to renew the child’s passport, and the right to maintain possession of the child’s passport. Passport language is often forgotten in decrees due to the fact that it may not have been addressed in a settlement agreement or at mediation. With this change, these rights become automatic and are granted to any sole managing conservator. This change is effective to any suit affecting the parent-child relationship that is currently pending in a trial court or is filed on or after September 1, 2019.
3. Citation by Publication: Online and In Print
Citation by publication is finally getting an overhaul. Specifically, section 3.305 and 102.010 of the Texas Family Code now state that citation shall be published “on the public information Internet website maintained as required by Section 72.034, Government Code” in addition to a newspaper of public circulation. Since the chances of someone receiving notice through a newspaper of public circulation are slim to none, this central internet website provides a possible solution. WARNING: the Supreme Court still has to work out the details, so until such time the current procedure regarding citation by public is the same.
4. Issued Protective Orders: For All to See
A whole subchapter was added to section 72 of the Government Code regarding the Protective Order Registry. This will create an online database for members of the public to electronically search for and access information regarding any protective order issued in this state. Public users will not be able to access protective order applications.
5. Gestational Agreements: Standing and Joinder
Gestational agreements were added in two important sections of the Texas Family Code, Section 6.406, regarding mandatory joinder of suit affecting parent child relationship and a divorce, and 102.003, regarding standing to file suit in a suit affecting the parent child relationship. Such provisions clarify and recognize that gestational agreements necessarily establish the parent-child relationship between the parties and therefore must joined in a divorce suit. Further, a person only has standing to bring suit regarding a gestational agreement if both parties to the agreement jointly file suit or if one party brings suit against the other party.
6. Agreements Incident to Divorce: Staying Out of Court
Section 7.006(b) of the Texas Family Code has now been amended to clarify that Agreements Incident to Divorce or other agreement do not need to filed with the court or the court clerk, if there is reference to such agreement in the final decree.
7. Changing Name of Adult: Criminals Can’t Hide
Section 45.103 of the Texas Family Code was amended to specify that an adult may only change his or her name to the primary name used in the person’s criminal history record information. This applies to people with a felony conviction or a person required to register as a sex offender.
8. Termination and Adoption: Aiding CPS Placements
Prior to the 2019 Legislative Session, intercounty issues would often arise in termination suits, wherein the suit would take place in one county, for example Harris County, Texas, and then a child would be placed in another county, for example, Tarrant County, Texas. Previously, if the foster parents wanted to adopt the child, they would have to file a suit for adoption in Harris, County, Texas, the court of continuing exclusive jurisdiction, rather than where the child currently resided. Section 155.201 was amended to allow the transfer of such proceedings from a court of continuing exclusive jurisdiction to the county in which the child resides. This amendment assists mainly children who have been placed in homes by CPS.
9. Exchange of the Child under the Standard Possession Order: Stop the Games
Where there is any leeway, parents often play games with the other parent. Previously, under Section 153.312(c) a possessory conservator was not required to give any advanced notice of the location where the managing conservator was to pick up and return the child. Well, the amendment of Section 153.312(c) closed that loophole by requiring a possessory conservator to notify the managing conservator, not later than the 15th day before the Friday that begins their designated possession, of the location at which the managing conservator is to pick up and return the child.
10. Special Needs Trust: Protecting Benefits
If you encounter a special needs trust, it is best to seek the advice of an attorney that deals with this type of trust often because the support a child with a disability receives may affect the benefits he or she is entitled to receive. That being said, Section 154.302 of the Texas Family Code states that the court can order that support of a child with a disability be paid directly to the special needs trust for the benefit of the adult and may not order the support be paid to the state disbursement unit. This change in law constitutes a material and substantial change of circumstances under Section 156.401 of the Texas Family Code to warrant modification of a court order or a portion of the final decree that provides for the support of a child rendered before the effective date of this change.
The Texas Family Foundation is instrumental in ensuring not only that our law continues to progress and improve, but also in ensuring that detrimental legislature that could adversely impact our clients do not get passed. Of note, the following were bills that were proposed but not passed:
- House Bill 922 would have ended no-fault divorce;
- House Bill 926 would have extended the waiting period for divorce from the current 60 days to 180 days;
- HB 2157 would have added a subsection (c) to Section153.134 of the Texas Family Code, creating a presumption in favor of “equal parenting time” if the parents are appointed joint managing conservator.
Luckily, these bills did not make it very far in the legislative process thanks to the Family Law Foundation and specifically, Steven and Amy Bresnen. However, these issues will likely arise in some form at future legislative sessions. Thus, it is imperative that all lawyers continue to support the Family Law Foundation and their mission of protecting and improving the Texas Family Code.