In re Interest of MAS concerned the troubling issue of a father who’d been convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a child. During the divorce, the mother asked the court to terminate the father’s parental rights to their two small children. The trial court held a hearing and then terminated the father’s parental rights under Ground L of Texas Family Code section 161.001(b)(1).
The father appealed, admitting he’d been convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a minor but denying criminal responsibility for serious injury or death to a child. The appellate court explained that in order to terminate parental rights, there had to be clear and convincing evidence not only that termination was in the child’s best interest but also that the parent had fulfilled a statutory ground for termination. Clear and convincing evidence is proof that results in a firm belief about the truth of the allegations.
Under Ground L, a statutory ground for termination is a conviction for being criminally responsible for a child’s death or serious injury, including aggravated sexual assault. The appellate court explained that the mother had submitted evidence showing that the father had been put on deferred adjudication community supervision for aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14, the State moved to revoke his community supervision based on a positive test for marijuana three different times, and there was a judgment showing the father’s sentence to six years for sexually assaulting a child who was 12 or 13.
The father argued this evidence wasn’t enough to show he was criminally responsible for a child’s serious injury. The appellate court explained that “serious injury” under section 161.001(b)(1)(L) was not defined. The appellate court determined that “serious” should be given its plain and ordinary meaning of having dangerous or important consequences, while “injury” would ordinarily mean to damage, hurt, or cause a loss.
The appellate court reasoned that it raised the question of whether an injury could be presumed to be serious based on statutory language or whether specific proof needed to be offered to show the seriousness of the injury.
On appeal, the father had cited to an earlier case in which parents appealed a judgment terminating their parental rights. The father had received deferred adjudication for indecency with his four-year-old cousin at age 16. In that case, the appellate court held there was no death or serious injury that would support termination under Ground L, although it affirmed the judgment terminating parental rights for other reasons. The Texas Supreme Court denied petitions for review but stated that it disavowed the idea that molesting a four-year-old or other acts of indecency did not cause serious injuries.
The appellate court disagreed with the father’s claim that aggravated sexual assault of a 12- or 13-year-old wouldn’t cause a serious injury. It found that the evidence submitted by the mother was enough to establish the father was criminally responsible for seriously injuring a child under section 22.021 of the Texas Penal Code. 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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