Dad joins push for custody reform

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DRC file photo
David Minton/DRC file photo
Bret Hohenberger plays in the backyard with his sons Gavin and Colton last March in Shady Shores.

Local man with personal experience seeks change in parental arrangements

A Shady Shores father has joined a renewed push for legislative reform that would give children equal time with their parents after divorce.

Currently, Bret Hohenberger has custody of his two young boys, now 3 and 5 years old. But a year ago, the boys’ mother took custody and wouldn’t let Hohenberger see them.

Texas House Bill 453 aims to give children equal time with both parents after they separate. The reform follows similar legislative reforms in other states. For years, custody arrangements favored children growing up primarily in their mother’s care. A growing body of research shows children grow up healthier mentally and physically when they spend more time with their fathers.

Hohenberger said the reforms could have another benefit, too.

“It would tremendously reduce the cost of divorce,” he said.

When fathers push for shared custody or try to enforce their visitation rights, as Hohenberger did, the court battles can get costly. Hohenberger said he spent thousands on legal help after his ex secretly moved to Arkansas and took the boys without his permission.

The bill was filed in November by state Rep. James White, R-Woodville. It has not yet been referred to a committee.

White signed onto a similar bill that died in the Texas House of Representatives two years ago. The legislation was voted favorably out of committee, with a number of people and parental rights organizations on the record as supporting it.

But the Texas Family Law Foundation, a trade association for family lawyers, opposed the reforms and the bill died on the house floor.

Nationwide, some judges, bar associations and domestic violence awareness groups have also opposed the reforms. They say judges need the authority and discretion to decide what’s best for the children and their families, since every case is different. They say that equal parenting laws assume divorced parents can communicate and cooperate, and that isn’t always the case.

According to a recent analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts, there have not been significant reforms to state laws on custody arrangements for more than 40 years. In 1970, the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act established five criteria to determine the “best interests” of the child. Groups like the National Parents Organization have advocated for reforms that respect a child’s right to be nurtured by both parents.

Hohenberger remains hopeful Texas legislators will include an enforcement provision to any reforms of custody laws, he said.

“An enforcement bill will be aimed to address the denial of visitation or the family abduction of a child, such as mine,” he said.

A group will rally in support of HB 453 next month. The rally is scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 13 on the south steps of the state Capitol in Austin.

For more information about the rally, email Hohenberger at bdh2186@yahoo.com.

To follow the progress of HB 453 and other legislation, visit the Texas Legislature website at www.capitol.state.tx.us.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.


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