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Terminating a person’s parental rights is a serious consequence. In Texas, a trial court must find clear and convincing evidence to terminate parental rights. To meet this high standard of proof, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (“the Department”) will introduce evidence that termination is in a child’s best interests. However, if the Department fails to offer clear and convincing evidence, the court cannot terminate the parent’s rights. A recent Texas appellate case demonstrates the high burden of proof courts require to terminate parental rights.

Facts of the Case

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services first removed the Mother’s children from her care when the Department found them living in a U-Haul, and the Mother admitted to recently using methamphetamine. The Department placed the children with their Father, who gave the Department misleading information about their care. The Father left one child with their adult sibling, even though the Department told him not to because the sibling used drugs. The child was later found walking alone on the highway, and the Father tested positive for illegal substances. The Department then sought to terminate both parents’ rights. At the termination hearing, the caseworker testified that the Mother did not participate in a service plan to reunite with her children. She further testified that the children were exposed to drugs while in their Father’s care. The Father was also convicted of child endangerment during the case and received an eight-year sentence. The trial court terminated the Mother and Father’s parental rights. The Mother and Father appealed.

The Decision

On appeal, the Mother and Father both argued there was insufficient evidence to terminate their rights. The appeals court agreed with the Mother, reversing the trial court’s decision. First, the court noted that the Department did not submit the service plan into evidence and did not specify the services the Mother had to undertake. In Texas, to terminate parental rights due to a failure to comply with a service plan, the plan must establish the specific actions necessary for reunification. Because there was no evidence of the service plan, the trial court could not have considered whether it was sufficiently specific. The court further found that the trial court should not have terminated the Mother’s parental rights based on her drug use. The Department had to prove that the parent both used a controlled substance in a manner that endangered the child’s safety and failed to complete a court-ordered substance treatment program or relapsed after completing the program. Here, the appeals court found no evidence that the Department ordered the Mother to complete a drug treatment program. The court thus reversed the trial court’s decision to terminate the Mother’s parental rights.

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In a typical divorce proceeding, property division and child custody will likely be two main issues among the parties. In Texas, property owned by one spouse before the marriage is usually not subject to division. However, if the other spouse increased the property’s value through specific contributions, that spouse may be entitled to the fair market value of the improvements to the property. Importantly, the spouse’s contributions must have a causal relationship to any appreciation in market value; passive appreciations in value will not suffice. A recent Texas appellate decision demonstrates how courts award property when one spouse claims to have improved another spouse’s separate property acquired before the marriage. The case also addresses joint conservatorship of a couple’s minor children, which many courts also refer to as joint custody.

Facts of the Case

According to the facts discussed in the opinion, the Mother and Father were married for eight years and had two minor children. The Mother filed for divorce, and a trial took place before a judge. The evidence focused on real property the Mother had purchased prior to the marriage. The Father had completed renovations to the property during their marriage. The trial also focused on the Mother’s retirement account, which she opened before the marriage but received contributions during the marriage. The trial court appointed both parents as joint managing conservators of their children, awarding the Mother the right to establish the children’s primary residence. The court also denied the Father’s reimbursement claims for funds he expended to improve the Mother’s property. Finally, the court awarded 100% of the disputed property and the retirement account to the Mother. The Father appealed.

The Decision

First, the appeals court affirmed the decision to appoint the Mother as joint managing conservator with the right to establish the children’s residence. The Father attempted to present evidence that the children suffered frequent injuries and illnesses while in the Mother’s care, including a broken arm and various bruises. However, the trial court heard testimony establishing that their son broke his arm at school and not in his Mother’s care. Additionally, because the trial court had photographic evidence of the bruises, it was in the best position to credit the Mother’s testimony that they were minor injuries incidental to the children’s daily activities. Finally, while the Father claimed the Mother failed to seek adequate medical treatment and underfed the children, the children’s pediatrician opined that there was no evidence of neglect and that the Father seemed preoccupied with gathering evidence against the Mother. Therefore, the appeals court rejected the Father’s arguments on this issue.

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When dividing property in divorce proceedings, courts will distinguish between separate property and community property. Separate property represents any property or assets that one person has held since before they were married. Conversely, community property constitutes property or assets shared between spouses. Typically, only community property is subject to division among the former spouses. Texas courts presume that property either spouse possesses during marriage or upon the end of the marriage is community property. To overcome this presumption, a spouse must present clear and convincing evidence that they held the property separately. A recent decision from the Texas Supreme Court shows the importance of presenting adequate evidence of separate property to avoid division following a divorce.

Facts of the Case

As the Texas Supreme Court opinion explains, the Wife filed for divorce after 14 years of marriage. At trial, the Husband presented evidence that two investment accounts in his name existed before his marriage. Specifically, an expert witness testified that the Husband did not mix his accounts with community property. The expert further testified about a four-month gap in the investment statements he received. However, he concluded that the missing statements did not detract from the “established pattern of activity” over 15 years. Agreeing with the expert, the trial court found that the accounts were the Husband’s separate property, meaning they were not subject to division.

The Wife appealed, and the appeals court reversed. First, it found “no evidence” of what happened during those four months. Based on this gap in the record, it found that the Husband’s expert could not rely on an “established pattern” of account activity to adequately characterize accounts as separate property. Therefore, it reversed that portion of the trial court’s decision and sent the case back to divide the account balances. The Husband appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.

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A recent Texas Supreme Court case reviewed the termination of a father’s parental rights based in large part on his illegal drug use. The trial court found sufficient evidence to terminate the father’s parental rights, but the appeals court disagreed. The Texas Supreme Court reversed the appeals court decision based on the evidence required to support a finding of child endangerment.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (“the Department”) investigated a father who was living with his children in his car. During the investigation, the father tested positive for methamphetamine, an illegal substance. After concluding its investigation, the Department removed the father’s two young children and placed them in foster care. The Department then developed a compliance plan for reunification that required the father to submit to drug tests in order to create a drug treatment plan. He initially followed the plan, and the children were placed with their grandmother. However, he eventually tested positive for marijuana use and stopped complying with the plan. After the father was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, a trial court ordered the children returned to foster care. The father did not visit his children for several months and missed the first day of his family court trial.

After reviewing the evidence, the trial court found that it was in the children’s best interest to terminate the father’s parental rights. The appeals court reversed, finding that drug use alone could not result in termination of parental rights without a direct causal link between the drug use and harm to the children. Additionally, the appeals court found that additional facts still could not show endangerment, including homelessness, a lack of stable employment, and the failure to visit his children, among other factors. The Department appealed.

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In a recent case, the Texas Supreme Court heard a case involving the termination of a mother’s parental rights. The trial court found sufficient evidence to terminate her rights, but the appeals court reversed. Ultimately, the high court reversed the appeal court’s ruling, finding sufficient circumstantial evidence and crediting a nurse’s testimony, which the court of appeals had excluded. The case demonstrates the deferential standard applied to reviewing a trial judge or jury’s decision.

Facts of the Case

According to the facts discussed in the opinion, this case arose after an infant arrived at the hospital with a fractured skull, brain bleed, and retinal hemorrhaging. The nurse treating the infant concluded that the injury would have required significant and intentional force, so the hospital notified local law enforcement and the Department of Family and Protective Services. Both parents blamed each other for their child’s injuries. While investigators initially focused on the Father, they concluded it was likely the Mother who caused the injuries. After the nurse testified at trial, the court terminated the Mother’s parental rights. The appeals court reversed, finding insufficient evidence to terminate her rights. The court was principally concerned that someone else could have caused the injury and cast doubt on the nurse’s testimony as to the timing of the injury. The Father and the Department filed petitions for review to the Texas Supreme Court.

The Decision

Ultimately, the high court reversed the appeals court. First, it found that the appeals court erred in excluding the nurse’s opinion testimony about causation because the Mother failed to object to the testimony at trial or on appeal. Then, it concluded that sufficient evidence existed to terminate the Mother’s parental rights. It disagreed with the appeals court, which reversed the trial court’s finding because it found insufficient evidence that the Mother directly caused the child’s injuries or endangered him due to her mental health. Applying Texas family law, the court explained that a showing of child endangerment does not require evidence that the Mother directly harmed the child.

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The amount of child support a parent must pay can depend on a number of factors. A parent’s current income and assets are relevant to their child support obligations, but courts may also consider the child’s age and needs if they justify a departure from typical child support guidelines. A court also may order retroactive child support payments in addition to future payments. Recently, a Texas appeals court partially affirmed and partially reversed a trial court’s child support order for abuse of the court’s discretion.

Facts of the Case

According to the facts discussed in the recent opinion, this dispute arose between a Mother and Father who were not married at the time their child was born and had since ended their relationship. The Mother moved from Texas to Indiana with her infant daughter to be closer to family. The Father, who remained in Texas, filed a petition with the Harris County trial court seeking a declaration of his parentage. He further asked the court to declare Texas as the child’s home state.

While the suit was pending, the Moher and Father entered into a settlement agreeing that neither party would child support until the proceeding concluded. After a bench trial, which is a trial before a judge without a jury, the judge declared that the Father was the child’s father and appointed the Mother and Father as joint conservators. It also found that Indiana was the child’s current home state, but Texas was her home state in the six months before the suit. The trial court further ordered the Father to pay child support in the future, along with retroactive child support. The Father appealed. On appeal, the Father argued that the trial court erred in naming both Indiana and Texas as the child’s home state; calculating his monthly net resources and resulting monthly child support payment; and ordering him to pay retroactive child support notwithstanding the settlement agreement.

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In a recent custody case before the Texas Supreme Court, the mother appealed a trial court’s decision to terminate her parental rights, asking the court to reconsider this ruling. The appellate court originally declined to issue an order on the mother’s appeal, deciding she failed to follow an important procedural step when she filed her appeal. Later, however, the Texas Supreme Court overruled this decision, telling the appellate court it should have reached the merits of the mother’s request.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, a trial court in Texas issued an order terminating both the mother’s and father’s rights to parent their child. The trial court judge announced his ruling in July 2022, and the mother appealed in October 2022. The trial judge’s written ruling, though, did not issue until November 2022. At that point, the appellate court dismissed the mother’s appeal, since it was filed before the final order was issued.

The court issued a second order in January 2023, naming a guardian for the minor child. The mother filed a second appeal the same month, again asking the court to reconsider the trial court’s ruling. At that point, the court again rejected the mother’s order, telling her she should have appealed the November 2022 order instead of the January 2023 order.

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In a recent case before an appellate court in Texas, the mother appealed a trial court’s ruling terminating her parental rights to three children. On appeal, the mother argued that the evidence presented during trial was insufficient to find that she was unable to parent her children. The higher court reviewed the evidence, considered the mother’s argument, and ultimately affirmed the original decision. The mother’s rights therefore remained terminated after the appellate court’s ruling.

Facts of the Case

This case began when the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services filed an emergency petition with a trial court in January 2022, alleging that the mother of three children had been exposing her kids to both alcohol abuse and domestic violence. After holding a hearing, the court decided that the three children should live temporarily with their aunt, until the mother could find a stable job, take parenting classes, and work with a country drug court. The court then ordered the mother to complete these steps before she appeared again for trial.

Ultimately, the court held a trial in June 2023 and found that the mother had not taken any of the steps that would allow her to regain custody of her children. The court terminated her parental rights, and she promptly appealed the decision.

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The process of finalizing a divorce can involve significant time and emotional energy. When the parties finally receive a divorce decree, the last thing they want is to come back to court. Unfortunately, a spouse may have to seek court enforcement of the decree if his or her former spouse does not abide by its terms. Under Texas law, it is important that the trial court solely enforces the decree rather than altering its terms. A recent Texas appellate court decision demonstrates the importance of sticking to the precise terms of a final divorce decree.

According to the facts discussed in the opinion, this case concerned a trial court’s authority to award property in a way that contradicted the terms of a divorce decree. Previously, the trial court had signed a divorce decree stating that each spouse would receive 50% of proceeds from the sale of the parties’ marital property and certain personal property. The decree also provided for damages against a non-compliant party. Specifically, the decree mandated damages, including redistribution of assets, if a party failed to timely turn over an asset awarded to the other party. If a spouse did not turn over any asset, the spouse would receive a reduced portion of proceeds from the sale of the couple’s marital home. Over two years later, the Wife filed a motion for enforcement of the decree after accusing the Husband of not paying Wife for her share of assets. The trial court granted the Wife’s motion for enforcement, finding that the Husband violated the decree by failing to deliver property to the Wife or delivering property in damaged condition. Accordingly, the court awarded the Wife damages per the terms of the decree. The trial court specifically awarded the Wife the full market value of their marital property, which the decree would otherwise split between the parties.

The appeals court reversed. Under Texas divorce law, a court cannot change the division of property in a divorce decree. The Wife argued that the trial court simply applied the damages provision from the decree. However, the appeals court concluded that the trial court went beyond the decree. Specifically, the trial court awarded the entire fair market value of the marital property rather than awarding damages proportionate to the Husband’s failure to deliver the property. Moreover, the action went beyond the trial court’s authority. Texas only permits courts to modify a final judgment up to thirty days after the judgment. The appeals court found that the trial court essentially modified its judgment granting the divorce decree. In this case, the trial court awarded the entire marital property value to the Wife over two years after the decree, which exceeded its legal authority. Therefore, the appeals court struck down the trial court’s order and dismissed the case.

Typically, divorce decrees award certain items of property to each spouse. The terms of a decree are final, but a court can enforce them after entering the decree. If one spouse fails to turn over property awarded to the other spouse, the court often must enforce the decree by requiring the spouse to transfer the property. In a recent Texas appeals court opinion, the court handled a petition to enforce a decree involving several items of personal property.

According to the facts discussed in the opinion, the Husband appealed a trial court’s partial denial of his petition to enforce the parties’ divorce decree. The decree awarded the Husband patio furniture, dining room furniture, and bronze statues from the marital home. The dispute arose when the Husband sought to recover the furniture, which he claimed was still in the Wife’s possession. At the trial court hearing, the Husband presented evidence of a check he wrote for the patio furniture and photographs of the furniture. The Wife admitted she took some outdoor furniture from their marital home, but she explained that it was not the Husband’s patio furniture but rather items she received before their marriage. In support, the court-appointed receiver testified that the Wife delivered the patio furniture to the Husband and kept her separate outdoor furniture. The Wife then confirmed she never returned the dining room furniture because she had sold it. The Wife also testified that she had not handed over the statues. The trial court granted the Husband’s petition with respect to the bronze statues but denied it with respect to the patio and dining room furniture.

On appeal, the Husband argued that the trial court abused its discretion by partially denying his petition for clarification and enforcement regarding the furniture. The appeals court upheld the district court’s decision with respect to the patio furniture. As the court explained, there was sufficient evidence to conclude the Wife no longer possessed it. The appeals court cited the Wife’s testimony that the other outdoor furniture was her separate property. They also credited the receiver’s testimony that the Wife returned the Husband’s patio furniture. However, the appeals court found that the trial court abused its discretion with respect to the dining room furniture. According to the court, there was insufficient evidence that the Wife returned the furniture. In fact, the Wife admitted she possessed the furniture before ultimately selling it. Therefore, the appeals court partially affirmed and partially reversed, sending the case back to the district court to enforce the decree.

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