About How Wayne Slater Wrote About The Custody Of Wendy Davis’ Daughter

Wendy Davis

Early this morning, I sent three corrections to George Rodrigue, the managing editor of the Dallas Morning News, for the Wayne Slater story on Wendy Davis. At 7:46am, I heard back from Mr. Rodrigue. He told me, “Thank you. We will take a fresh look at the original story in light of your note and get back to you.” As of 9:55pm tonight, no corrections and no response.

If you’d like to send in corrections, the link to the corrections form is here (though it kept timing out for me). Rodrigue’s email is grodrigue at dallasnews dot com (I found that just googling last night).

I would like to draw your attention to a piece that Wayne Slater published last night at the DMN: “Wendy Davis, Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards appear at fundraiser.”

It’s a shit piece but I’m not going to go into that right now. I do want to point to this, though:

But questions about her second divorce and custody of her daughters have proved particularly vexing for the campaign. Court records show Wendy and Jeff Davis were granted “joint conservatorship” as is usually the case in divorces, but under the final ruling Jeff Davis was given physical custody of younger daughter Dru and Wendy Davis was ordered to pay child support. Amber, who was 21 and in college, subsequently moved back into the home with her sister and stepfather.

This is categorically a different thing than what Slater wrote in the original piece and which I specifically drew attention to in my email to Rodrigue this morning.

What Slater wrote in that inflammatory piece:

Jeff Davis was awarded parental custody.

What I submitted to the DMN this morning:

Tonight, Wendy Davis said, “I never gave up custody of my children. I never lost custody of my children. And to say otherwise is an absolute lie.”

Jay Root at The Texas Tribune writes, “According to divorce records, she and her husband were granted “joint conservatorship” of her child, Dru, who was a teenager at the time. She continued to live with her father, Jeff Davis, in the house the couple had shared. “ (http://www.texastribune.org/2014/01/28/davis-says-critics-picked-wrong-texas-gal/)

So, Slater has changed how he describes this. Part of the problem here is that, like the information around the student loans and who would have been responsible for them in a divorce, the situation is way more complicated than Slater’s initial piece allowed and even what he wrote last night.

First, Texas doesn’t have custody. They have conservatorship.

Second, Slater is right. “Joint conservatorship” is presumed under Texas law unless it can be proved that only one part should be solely rights and responsibilities over their children.

From there, it gets more complicated.

What I think Slater means by “physical custody” is that in working out how joint conservatorship will work, determining with whom the child will live is part of what the court helps establish:

 ”Joint conservatorship” does not entail equal time with the child, although that does happen in rare cases (mostly by agreement of the parents). In most cases, the court grants one parent the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child. That parent, in common parlance, becomes the “primary caretaker” of the child, whereas the other becomes what some might refer to as the “non-custodial” or “non-primary” parent.

[emphasis in the original]

If one parent has “exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child,” does that mean that the rights and responsibilities over the child are split equally or not?

What is usually at stake is just the right to designate the primary residence of the children, not the ability to maintain a meaningful and significant relationship with your children. Texas law provides default standard periods of possession for joint managing conservators who do not receive the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child. Commentators have estimated that despite the “primary/non-primary” lingo, a non-custodial parent may ultimately enjoy up to 45% of the non-school-hour “quality” time with his or her children, including extended summer possession, vacations, alternate weekends, holidays, and some weekday evenings. Consequently, an active and truly-interested parent may still remain a significant part of his or her child’s life even without being the “primary caretaker.” Additionally, all other medical, schooling, religious, social, travel, and athletic decisions generally remain jointly shared unless the parents fight so much that joint responsibility for these decisions is unworkable.

Here is the thing. Slater decided to write a story that was not completely fleshed out and was not correct. And part of the issue here is that he chose to write a story about complicated family dynamics and personal decisions about which journalists may simply not have privy information no matter what they can find in the public record.

Who is responsible for debt and how conservatorship decisions are made are not obvious from the outside, especially here in Texas.

On top of ALL of that, who was responsible for the debt and how the Davises decided to handle the conservatorship for their daughter DO. NOT. MATTER. to Davis’ ability to be governor. Slater’s not-nuanced, not-always-right, and sexist work has shifted the conversation and painted Davis in a particularly negative light all because Slater (and his editors, I presume) chose to tell a complicated story in the simplified form of a newspaper article. 

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5 Responses

  1. Mary Bell Lockhart says:

    It’s not “continuously vexing” to Wendy Davis or her campaign, the DMN is maintaining it as a story. They are the ones vexed because they just have nothing else to attack her with. Yet can we ever expect the DMN to change from being the conservative mouthpiece to a real source of journalism? I doubt it. Fortunately thousands of Texans have gone through divorces and custody arrangements themselves and they can see through this charade DMN is playing. Just keep saying this: If she were a man with exactly the same history, would this even be a story? No way!

  2. Heather Busby says:

    A. None of this matters and should never have been brought up in this or any campaign.
    B. There’s also the very real possibility that this arrangement was not decided by the court at all, but was worked out among the family. Perhaps they decided it was best if Dru finished out high school in the same place and Wendy was more than happy to contribute financially. Nothing indicates this was a ugly court battle where the judge decided this arrangement. In Texas, you can pretty much decide on any arrangement and as long as the parties agree and sign off, it becomes final.

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  5. Harriet Stackpole says:

    Davis has made her biography one of the central aspects of her campaign. She should expect to be held to the same standards as any politician who has found his/her “complicated” life story the subject of journalistic investigation (see Marco Rubio).