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Petition to Modify Parent-Child Relationship After Texas Divorce

childIn a recent Texas appellate case, the court considered a divorce in which each parent was appointed joint managing conservator of their three kids. The father was given the exclusive right to designate the kids’ primary residence, and neither parent required supervised access.

The father petitioned to modify the parent-child relationship on the ground that there had been a material and substantial change in their circumstances. He asked for the mother to be denied access or have supervised access only. The mother cross-petitioned, asking that she be appointed the sole managing conservator and that the father be denied access to the kids. The parties went to trial only on the mother’s petition.

At trial, the court heard from two psychologists. The parents were ordered to continue being joint managing conservators with the mother having the exclusive right to designate the kids’ primary residence. The father’s access to his kids was limited, and steps that had to be taken were specified. Only if he completed those steps would he be permitted visitation.

The father appealed, arguing that not enough evidence had been presented to produce the judgment and that it was incorrect for the trial court to rely on the psychologist’s expert testimony.

The appellate court explained that it interpreted the father’s argument as a claim that the expert was not qualified to give testimony as an expert. It reasoned that when specialized knowledge helps the trier of fact understand the evidence or determine a fact, a qualified expert can testify. But there’s no rigid formula to decide whether someone is qualified to testify as an expert. The proponent of the expert has to show that he has knowledge, skills, and education about a particular issue before the trial court that would qualify him to provide an opinion on that subject.

The expert in this case was a licensed psychologist with a doctorate who was appointed to conduct a psychological evaluation. She’d been conducting evaluations for courts for 11 years. The appellate court found that there was enough evidence on the record about her qualifications for her to testify as an expert at trial.

The appellate court also reviewed the father’s claim that the evidence was not enough to support the de facto termination of his parental rights under Section 262.201, which relates to procedures in lawsuits by governmental entities to protect a child’s health and safety. The appellate court disagreed, noting that since the modification related to the parent-child relationship as it affected two parents, Section 156 of the Texas Family Code governed it. The children’s best interest was the primary consideration in deciding possession and access of the parents. The lower court was permitted to modify the divorce decree if modification would be in the child’s best interests and the circumstances of those affected by the order had materially and substantially changed since the divorce decree was rendered.

The court explained that material changes could include the marriage of one of the parents, one of the parents poisoning the child’s mind, changes in the home, mistreatment, or a parent becoming an improper person to have custody. The trial court in this case found that the father had embarked on a course of action intended to alienate the kids from their mother and that it was in the best interests of the kids to be involved in counseling and stay with their mother without the father’s interference. The experts’ recommendations were supported.

If you are concerned about child custody and parental rights, contact the Texas attorneys at the McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200.

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