Many people assume that emotional abuse is not as serious as physical or sexual abuse. This is not the case in parental rights and child custody matters in Texas. In the Interest of SD and GD concerned the termination of a parent-child relationship between a Texas mother and her two children. The father and mother had married in 2003 and had two children. The father divorced the mother in 2010. Shortly thereafter, the mother accused the father of physically and sexually abusing one of the kids and physically abusing the other. She made several allegations of abuse that caused Child Protective Services to investigate the father. Each time, they found there was no abuse.
Since she’d made multiple unfounded allegations of abuse, CPS investigated her for emotional abuse of one of the children, S.D. They determined she’d coached her daughter to allege abuse against the father and found the mother had been emotionally abusive.
The court granted a divorce but appointed both parents as joint managing conservators. Although it found there was evidence the mother had a history of emotional abuse, it determined she should have a modified possession order. The mother was supposed to see a therapist who specialized in anger management and false memory syndrome. She had to give the father a written verification she was seeing the therapist in order to have certain times of unsupervised possession. The modified possession order further provided that as the mother completed additional therapy, she’d have more unsupervised possession. She was also supposed to pay child support, although this was delayed so that the mother could complete the therapy.
The parents were able to keep the exchange of children on a good routine nine times without a problem. However, on the 10th visitation, the father kept the schedule, but the mother didn’t return the children to the father. After two and a half hours of waiting, the father went to the police and reported the children were missing. Fifteen days later, the police found the mother and children in a hotel room in Las Vegas and negotiated to have the children returned.
When the father came to get them, the children were frantic and began to have nightmares about being kidnapped. The father petitioned to modify the divorce and the mother’s access. The court temporarily enjoined the mother from unsupervised possession and provided for supervised visitation.
The mother didn’t make any effort to talk to the kids for 16 months after that, and she didn’t make child support payments. She was also charged with two counts of interference with child custody under Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 25.03(a)(1). In December 2013, she tried to arrange supervised visitation. Her criminal trial was reset to the end of the year, but she didn’t make any child support payments. She claimed necessity at her criminal trial, and she continued to claim that the father had sexually and physically abused their child and that she left with the kids, fearing for their safety. The evidence confirmed that CPS had found no abuse, and the mother had been repeatedly told there was no reason for her to believe the abuse.
Because of the mother’s claims of abuse, the daughter had 25 pelvic exams. The kids were scared of her. She was found guilty by the jury and sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment for the offenses.
The father asked to terminate the mother’s parental rights, and the trial court enjoined her temporarily from contacting the children. The counselor was told by the kids they were scared of the mother, and the daughter claimed the mother locked her brother in a closet and fed him dog food. She also claimed that the mother’s house was full of vomit and dog poop, so she left them with their grandmother when she had possession. The mother said things to the counselor that made him concerned she would take the children again. The no-contact order stayed in place, but the mother sent gifts to the kids and cards.
She finally made her first child support payment in 2015, but it was a fraction of what she owed. The trial court terminated her rights under the Texas Family Code section 161.001. She appealed.
The appellate court explained that section 161.001 allows for the termination of the parent-child relationship when there is clear and convincing evidence of one of the several acts listed in the statute, and the best interests of the child are served by termination. In this case, the court had found she’d committed four acts on the list, including voluntarily leaving the kids alone with another party without support and staying away for at least six months, knowingly allowing the kids to stay in places that endangered them, engaging in conduct that harmed their wellbeing, and failing to support the kids for one year ending within six months of the date of filing the termination petition.
The appellate court found that the allegations against the mother were amply supported in the record. The counselor’s report also backed up the allegations. This evidence all supported the trial court’s best interest of the children finding. Most of the trial court’s judgment was affirmed.
If your divorce involves matters related to child custody and parental rights, contact the Texas attorneys at the McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.
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