Articles Posted in Parental Rights

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mother and childIn a recent Texas child custody case, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services sued to terminate a mother’s parental rights to her daughter. After the jury trial, her parental rights were terminated.

The lower court found that the mother had placed or permitted her child to stay in surroundings that threatened the child’s wellbeing. It also found she’d put the child with people who were involved in activities that were endangering the child. It also found that she’d failed to obey a service plan that set forth actions she had to complete in order to have her child returned, and terminating her rights was in the child’s best interest under Texas Family Code section 161.001(b)(1)(D), (E), and (O).

The mother had two kids, a son and a daughter from different fathers. The son was around 11 years old at the time of trial, while the daughter was 16 months old. While the mother was pregnant with her daughter, the Department got a report that claimed there was domestic violence in her home.

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childIn a recent Texas child custody case, a mother sought reversal of a judgment that terminated her parental rights to her two kids. The parents were the biological parents of two small kids, one a four-year-old autistic boy and the other a 19-month-old girl. They lived in an apartment, and the father served as the breadwinner, while the mother managed the household and took care of the kids.

The mother suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, and this was one reason she didn’t work outside the home. She was hospitalized for treatment in 2015 and then took medications that made her feel out of it. She needed help from the father when she was on medication.

In December 2015, the father moved out, which was the start of a marital separation. When he left, she stayed in the apartment with their kids. She didn’t have significant resources and had to manage them alone. Her son from a prior relationship visited the family that year. He was 11 and helped the mother.

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father and daughterIn a Texas child custody decision, the appellate court considered child custody and a petition to modify the parent-child relationship. The couple had married in 2010 and had their first child the next year. They separated and got back together multiple times, but they finally separated a last time in 2012, after police were called to stop a domestic fight.

The wife sought and received a two-year protective order against the husband that stopped him from going within 200 yards of her home, her workplace, or the child’s school, except when it was necessary for visitation. The divorce was finalized in 2013. The wife was named the child’s sole managing conservator, and the father was named possessory conservator with visitation rights.

The wife filed a motion for enforcement and a petition to modify a year later. She claimed her ex had violated the divorce decree by not paying child support, not attending an orientation at the neutral exchange location, and not going to therapy. She asked the court to hold her ex-husband in contempt and confine him. The ex-husband sued to reduce his child support obligation. She then asked for another protective order because the ex-husband had violated the original protective order by harassing her with texts in which he labeled her with derogatory names. A new protective order was granted.

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baby carriageA Texas child custody case arose after a mother asked the court to grant her plea to the jurisdiction and request for dismissal of a petition to modify the parent-child relationship, which was filed by her children’s stepmother.

The mother and father in the case had divorced in 2011. The court appointed them joint managing conservators of their three kids. The kids lived with the mother, who had the right to choose their primary residence. They spent one night a week and every other weekend with their father. They had dinner with him on a different night once a week.

Two years later, the father was diagnosed with cancer, and the parents modified their child custody order, reducing the father’s child support and life insurance obligations, and adding an overnight on the night the kids ate dinner with him. The former couple agreed that if either parent became incapacitated or died, the kids would continue to have reasonable contact with their extended family on the other side.

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mother and sonIt is crucial to retain an experienced Texas child custody attorney and obtain a clear record at the lower court level. In a recent Texas appellate decision, a mother appealed from a court’s decision in a lawsuit to modify the parent-child relationship. She argued that she and the father shouldn’t have been named joint managing conservators with her access being supervised. She also argued that the access the trial court gave was below the minimum access established by the Family Code’s standard possession order. She further argued that evidence wasn’t identified.

The case arose when a child’s parents divorced in 2011. The court appointed the parents as joint managing conservators. The mother had the right to decide the primary residence of the child, while the father simply had the right to visit. Three years later, the father petitioned for a modification, wanting the exclusive right to decide the child’s primary residence. He asked the court to deny the mother access or that her visits be supervised on the grounds that she physically abused the child, smoked and drank too much around the child, and moved around the city and had pulled the child out of school multiple times. The father also claimed the child was terrified of the mother’s new husband.

The lower court granted the father’s request. The mother appealed. She didn’t file a reporter’s record or follow the proper procedure, but she presumed the proof submitted supported the order. The appellate court explained that the child’s best interest is the lower court’s main consideration when deciding conservatorship under Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.002. The lower court can modify possession or access only when it’s in the child’s best interests, and the child’s circumstances have materially and substantially changed.

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mother and babyIn a recent Texas appellate case, a mother appealed from a trial court order that limited her possession of her daughter to once a month over one year. The case arose when the Department of Family and Protective Services brought an action for the protection and conservatorship of a couple’s three-year-old daughter. It asked for parental rights to be terminated in its initial pleadings.

The caseworker testified that she’d removed the child from the mother’s custody because there were concerns about the mother’s drug use and mental health, including suicide efforts and about 40 hospitalizations. When removed, the child lived with her maternal grandmother in dirty conditions. The Department put her with a foster family, which was ultimately not able to handle her special needs, including a narrowed esophagus and delayed speech development. She was later placed with her father.

The daughter did well in her placement with the father. Meanwhile, the mother did perform the tasks she was asked to perform by the Department. Accordingly, the Department no longer wanted to terminate her parental rights. The Department asked that the mother and father be named as joint managing conservators, with the father named as the parent who could designate the child’s primary residence. The Department recommended a standard visitation order.

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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.

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Many people ask: Can my children decide where they want to live in a divorce? There are many ways for a court to consider children’s input about where they want to live.

The first way is simply allowing children to talk to the judge. Section 153.009 of the Texas Family Code allows a parent to request that a judge interview the child in chambers to determine the child’s wishes regarding certain aspects of custody. If a child is over the age of 12, it is mandatory that the judge interview the child on the request of a parent. A judge may also interview a child under age 12. It is important to know that 12-year old children cannot actually decide where they where they want to live. They will not be providing the “final say.” Instead, the child’s wishes will just be one factor that the Court considers in addition to other important information. Another thing to keep in mind is that this process can be traumatic for children. Sitting in a judge’s chambers can be very intimidating for a child, and a child could be negatively impacted by the pressure of such a weighty decision. However, many times, a child’s input can be very important in a child custody dispute, and so there are other means to obtain the information indirectly.

Another way to get a child’s input in child custody litigation is through a Child Custody Evaluation. In Texas, the only mental health professional that may make recommendations as to possession and conservatorship for children is a child custody evaluator. The Texas Family Code provides very detailed requirements for a child custody evaluation, which includes interviews of each parent and anyone living in a house with the child, interviews of the child, and observations of the home environment and each parent’s interactions with the child. The child custody evaluator will therefore be able to talk to children about where they want to live, and will do so in conjunction with a much broader study into the children’s home environment and what will ultimately be in the best interests of the children.

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Yes, step-parents could have standing to bring a claim under Texas Family Code Section 102.003(11), often referred to as the “step-parent” statute.  Under this statute, a custody suit may be brought by “[a] person with whom the child and the child’s guardian, managing conservator, or parent have resided for at least six months ending not more than 90 days preceding the date of the filing of the petition if the child’s guardian, managing conservator, or parent is deceased at the time of the filing of the petition.”  In other words, if the biological parent who is married to the step-parent dies, then the step-parent might have standing to pursue conservatorship, possession, of and access to the child.

This statute specifically gives rights to a step-parent who has helped raise one or more children of the parent who dies so long as the children have resided with the step-parent and deceased parent for at least six months ending not more than 90 days prior to the date of the filing of the petition. In determining whether or not the step-parent has standing, the court must determine whether the child’s principal residence was with the step-parent and deceased parent.  The Court will look at the following factors when determining whether the residence was a “principal” residence of the child: (1) whether the residence is a fixed place of abode, (2) whether the residence was occupied or intended to be occupied consistently over a substantial period of time, and (3) whether the residence was permanent rather than temporary. In re Kelso, 266 S.W.3d 586, 590 (Tex.App.—Fort Worth 2008, orig. proceeding); Doncer v. Dickerson, 81 S.W.3d 349, 361 (Tex.App.—El Paso 2002, no pet.). If the court reviews these three factors and determines that the child does have a principal residence with the step-parent and that such residency existed for a period of at least six months ending not more than 90 days before the date of filing of the petition, then standing is established for that step-parent.

After standing is established, there could be an addition hurdle for the step-parent if he or she is filing an original conservatorship suit, and that hurdle is known as the “parental presumption.” On the other hand, while the Texas Family Code imposes a “parental presumption” in original suits for parents over third parties seeking conservatorship, no such presumption applies to a modification suit filed by relatives or third parties, such as step-parents, who make a request to modify conservatorship, possession, or access. See In re V.L.K., 24 S.W.3d 338 (Tex. 2000).  Therefore, depending on the type of claim that is brought, a step-parent could have a higher burden.  If the step-parent is filing an original suit – then he or she may have to overcome the “parental presumption” and prove that the surviving parent is unfit in order to have certain rights.

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womanA recent Texas appellate case involved a child custody dispute that arose between a mom and her children’s paternal grandmother after their father committed suicide in 2014. After his death, the mother asked the trial court to appoint her managing conservator of the kids. The kids’ paternal grandmother cross-petitioned for the same appointment.

Before his death, the father had been CFO for a multinational corporation. His job required him to travel outside the country often. He met the mother in Mexico and became romantically involved with her. She immigrated to the United States, gave birth to three children, and married the father. While pregnant with the fourth child, the mother took a quick trip to Mexico to get a United States visa.

The immigrant officials denied her request for a visa on the ground that she’d previously been illegally present in the country for one or more years. For that reason, she had to stay in Mexico for 14 months waiting for a visa. Her kids stayed in the country with the father.

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