Articles Posted in Termination

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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In legal proceedings to terminate parental rights, the parent may have a different version of events from the caseworkers at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). When parents and the DFPS present conflicting narratives in court, the judge must reach factual findings by weighing each witness’s credibility. Appellate courts tend to defer to trial court findings because the trial judges directly heard the evidence. However, one party may appeal the trial court’s decision if they believe it relied on insufficient evidence. When the relevant issue is the best interests of the child, courts will more closely scrutinize the evidence the trial court relied on to support a “best interests” finding.

How Do Courts Weigh Conflicting Testimony in Termination Proceedings?

A recent Fifth District Court of Appeals case illustrates how appeals courts examine conflicting testimony between caseworkers and parents in termination proceedings. In this case, the appeals court upheld the trial court’s opinion terminating a mother’s parental rights to two of her children. According to the facts discussed in the opinion, the child’s mother had a history of substance abuse, criminal activity, and lack of stable housing an employment. There were also possible allegations that she was a victim of domestic violence and had physically abused the children, though there was no evidence of the latter. After DFPS placed the children in foster care, the agency created a compliance plan with the mother to reunite her with her children.

The plan included, among other things, submitting proof of stable housing and employment, joining an autism support group to help her child with autism, refraining from criminal activity, and submitting to frequent drug tests. Later, DFPS sought to terminate her parental rights, alleging that the mother failed to follow the plan. DFPS also explained that the children were thriving in their foster home, which led to improved grades and management of their behavioral issues. The mother, however, alleged that she diligently followed the plan, and DFPS had made no effort at reunification. After weighing the evidence, the trial judge found that terminating the mother’s parental rights was in the children’s best interests. The mother appealed, arguing the evidence was factually insufficient to support the trial court’s ruling.

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What is Constructive Abandonment?

The Texas Family Code section allows involuntary termination of parental rights if clear and convincing evidence supports that a parent engaged in at least one of the twenty-one grounds for termination and termination is in the best interest of the child. See TEX. FAM. CODE § 161.001(b)(1)(A)-(U), (b)(2). A court will look at the parent’s ability to provide a safe environment for their children, the parent’s parental skills, and the best interest of the child when deciding whether or not to terminate parental rights based on constructive abandonment. Grounds for parental rights termination include constructive abandonment if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the parent has: 

constructively abandoned the child who has been in the permanent or temporary managing conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services (“Department”) for not less than six months, and:

Understanding the standards used to make a decision when a CPS termination has been started can be crucial. Whether you are attempting to adopt through foster care or you are facing a termination hearing yourself, understanding the way the judge is going to make their decision is very important. Many people have misconceptions about the rights a parent has to their children and, for a variety of reasons, many people have a mistrust of the legal system when it comes to deciding where a child should live and who should have the right to see a child.

Depending on who you talk to, some people feel that courts are too quick to take children away and it also seems that an equal amount of people feel that courts take too long to terminate parental rights. The Texas legislature has attempted to strike a balance in the standards used to make decisions in a termination hearing between these two complaints. This blog post is going to attempt to break down the often complicated standards used when a judge is faced with the task of deciding whether or not to terminate parental rights.

What standard is used in a termination hearing?

Usually, it is in the best interest of a child to live with their parent. This is not always the case though, and there are times that a court may need to terminate the rights of a parent. The court will terminate a parent-child relationship if it finds it to be in the best interest of the child and if the parent committed one or more of the statutory acts set out in Texas Family Code 161.001. Abuse and neglect will not always be the only reasons that a parent’s rights have been terminated. Instead, each case that is brought before the court will be determined on a fact based analysis considered by several factors.

How does the court determine the best interest of the child?

In 1976 the court came up with several factors that determine the best interest of the child in Holley v. Adams, and are now termed the Holley factors. These factors include 1) the desires of the child; 2) the emotional and physical needs of the child now and in the future; 3) the emotional and physical danger to the child now and in the future; 4) the parental abilities of the person seeking custody; 5) the programs available to assist the person seeking custody in promoting the best interest of the child; 6) plans for the child by the person seeking custody; 7) the stability of the home or proposed placement; 8) the acts or omissions of the parent that may indicate the parent-child relationship is not a proper one; and 9) any excuse for the acts or omissions of the parent. Not all of the factors listed above will apply to each case brought before the court. The court will use the factors on a case-by-case basis to decide if termination of the parent’s rights is in the child’s best interest.

New 2013 Texas Family Laws

 At Guest and Gray our Forney and Rockwall Family team works to keep our clients informed on changes in the Family Code. Recently, the legislature passed many new laws that affects Texas families. Our family attorney can help you understand how these laws will affect your case, and we offer confidential consultation for all family law cases. Call us today so we can help you.

Miscellaneous Changes

The involuntary termination of parental rights implicates fundamental constitutional rights. Holick v. Smith, 685 S.W.2d 18, 20 (Tex. 1985). To terminate parental rights, the trier of fact must find, by clear and convincing evidence, that the parent has committed one of the acts prohibited under section 161.001(1) of the Texas Family Code and that termination of parental rights is in the child’s best

interest. TEX. FAM.CODE ANN. § 161.001(1), (2) (West Supp. 2012); In re E.N.C., 384 S.W.3d

796, 803 (Tex. 2012).

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