Texas Supreme Court Reverses Appeals Court’s Parental Rights Decision

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.

The Decision

The Texas Supreme Court reversed the appeals court’s decision. First, it found that the court failed to apply the meaning of “endanger” for illegal drug use cases based on relevant Texas state case law. Under a key case involving a parent’s drug use, the court defined “endanger” to include a substantial risk of harm to the child rather than actual harm. A pattern of behavior presenting a substantial risk of harm also permits a trial judge or jury to reasonably find “endangerment.” Here, the court of appeals erred in requiring a direct causal link between the drug use and physical injury to his children. Second, the Texas Supreme Court held that the appeals court disregarded evidence that the father’s drug use created a substantial risk of harm to his children. A reasonable factfinder could find that the father’s pattern of illegal drug use, coupled with other factors including homelessness, endangered his children and supported termination of his parental rights. However, rather than terminating the father’s parental rights, the supreme court sent the case back to the appeals court to review the trial court’s findings of fact to determine whether the father’s bond with the children supports a path toward reunification.

Do You Need a Texas Child Welfare Attorney?

As this case demonstrates, a court may terminate parents’ rights even if their conduct does not directly harm their children. Under these circumstances, working with an experienced personal injury attorney can be a crucial step to advocate for your rights. The Texas family law attorneys at Guest & Gray can help you make the strongest possible case to a family court judge that you are entitled to parental rights and reunification with your children. If you are facing a trial to terminate your parental rights, call us to schedule a free consultation at 972-564-4644 or use our online form.

Contact Information