Texas Court Sides with Mother in Appeal Highlighting Procedural Hurdles in Family Law Cases

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.

With that, the appellate court declined to reach the merits of the mother’s argument, meaning it told the mother that it could not even decide whether her argument was valid, given the fact that her appeal was procedurally incorrect both times she filed.

The Decision

In its decision, the Texas Supreme Court decided that the appellate court should have taken the mother’s appeal seriously. An appealing party can technically only appeal court’s final order, and both of the mother’s appeals in this case addressed the court’s final order.

It was not the mother’s fault, said the court, that the trial court’s order did not issue its November order until four months after the judge announced his decision. Additionally, the mother’s second appeal in January 2023 should have been valid, since the court’s January order was the most recent (and therefore final) order in the case. Because the mother appealed the final order, as indicated by the court’s records at the time of her filing, in each case, the appellate court was wrong to not address her claims.

The court therefore sent the case back down to the appellate court so that it could make a decision on the mother’s appeal.

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