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Parents’ Agreement to Terminate a Mother’s Rights in Texas

childIn the 2016 Texas case In re Morris, an appellate court considered a father’s request for a writ of mandamus after the mother and he agreed to the rendition of an order terminating the mother-child relationship. The adjudicated father of the child asked the appellate court to compel the lower court to vacate its order, which refused to render judgment in accord with the parents’ agreement to terminate the parent-child relationship between the mother and the child. He also wanted the court to render judgment according to their mediated settlement agreement.

In 2004, the trial court named the father and mother of a child the joint managing conservators of the child. In 2014, the child’s mother signed an affidavit voluntarily relinquishing her parental rights. She claimed that the termination of her relationship with the child was in the child’s best interests, but she didn’t provide facts in support. The mother didn’t expressly state she relinquished her parental rights.

In 2015, the child’s father filed a petition to terminate the parent-child relationship between the mother and child on the grounds that the mother had executed an irrevocable affidavit of relinquishment of parental rights and that termination was in the child’s best interests.

At mediation, the parents signed a mediated settlement agreement to enter an order of termination. However, the mother didn’t agree in this document that the termination of her parental rights was in the child’s best interests. The father filed the document with the court and appeared at a hearing to ask the court to render judgment on the agreement. He didn’t offer evidence regarding the child’s best interests. The trial court denied the father’s request, explaining that the statutory requirements for parental rights termination under § 153.0071(d) and Chapter 161 of the Texas Family Code were not met.

The father filed a petition for writ of mandamus and argued it was a clear abuse of discretion for the trial court not to terminate the parent-child relationship as agreed in the mediated settlement agreement.

The appellate court explained that the lower court reasonably could have found the father failed to meet the requirements of Family Code section 161.001. This code section provides that termination is permissible if the court determines by clear and convincing evidence that the parent has executed an unrevoked or irrevocable affidavit relinquishing his or her parental rights, and termination is in a child’s best interests. Proving the first requirement does not excuse proof of the second requirement.

In order to establish abuse of discretion, the father had to establish that the trial court could only reach one decision if it were acting reasonably, and it could not have reasonably reached the decision it did. The only evidence the father put forward was the mediated settlement agreement, with the affidavit attached. There were no facts in the affidavit to support the mother’s claim that termination was in the child’s best interests. The father didn’t testify about how the termination would be in their child’s best interests. There was no testimony related to the grounds specified in section 161.001(1).

The appellate court determined that the trial court had no evidence to go on about the child’s best interests, and it could have reasonably decided that the father didn’t meet his burden of proof.

The appellate court further explained that terminating parental rights affects not only the parents’ interests but also the child’s fundamental liberty interests. The child’s interest in maintaining a parental relationship may not be adequately represented in settlement negotiations between the parents. Termination of parental rights is final. The appellate court denied the father’s petition for a writ of mandamus.

If your divorce involves matters related to child custody and support, contact the Texas attorneys at the McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.

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