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.