Texas Appeals Court Partially Reverses Parental Rights Termination

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.

However, the appeals court affirmed the termination of the Father’s parental rights based on his criminal conviction. To terminate parental rights for criminal activity, the parent must be imprisoned for a minimum of two years, but evidence of the availability of parole is relevant. The Father argued that the evidence was insufficient to show that he would serve more than two years in prison before being eligible for parole. However, the appeals court found that the trial court could have reasonably believed that the Father would be incarcerated for at least two years given his eight-year sentence. Therefore, the appeals court affirmed the trial court’s termination of the Father’s parental rights.

Do You Have Questions About Texas Parental Rights Proceedings?

The outcome of a parental rights proceeding can depend on the sufficiency of evidence each party presents at trial. If you are anticipating a parental rights or child custody proceeding, it is important to work with a Texas family law attorney to protect your rights. The experienced attorneys at Guest and Gray have a keen understanding of the legal evidence that parents should present at trial. Our team can help gather evidence, speak to witnesses, and present the strongest possible case for you to reunite with your children. To speak with a qualified Texas family law attorney today, call us for a free consultation at 972-564-4644 or use our online form.


Contact Information