Texas Supreme Court Reverses Parental Termination Judgment on Procedural Grounds

It has been said that the termination of a natural parent’s parental rights is akin to “the death penalty” of child welfare cases. When the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services makes the decision that it is in a child’s best interest to terminate the rights of a natural parent, the proceedings are often taken as a last resort. Because the rights involved are so important and fundamental, the DFPS must follow strict procedural guidelines when pursuing a termination case. The Texas Supreme Court recently addressed a natural father’s appeal from a ruling terminating his parental rights.

According to the facts discussed in the recently published appellate opinion, the Texas DFPS had sought to terminate a man’s parental rights over his son. The man and the child’s mother were married in 2016 and the child was born in 2017. The mother had a history of drug problems and appeared to expose the child to drugs before and after her pregnancy. In a different proceeding, the mother’s parental rights were terminated for her failure to abide by a safety plan enacted by the DFPS.

In the instant case, the DFPS alleged that the man did not have a safe home for his son to live in with him. Additionally, the DFPS was concerned about the man’s continued contact with the child’s mother, and his minimization of her drug and behavioral issues. The father proposed that he and his son could move in with a family member, however, the plans were not guaranteed, and the DFPS continued to pursue termination proceedings. At trial, a jury found that terminating the father’s parental rights was in the best interest of the child, in part because the father knowingly allowed the child to be endangered by the mother’s drug abuse.

The father appealed the ruling, eventually finding himself at the Texas Supreme Court. On appeal, the father argued that the jury’s finding that he knowingly endangered the child was not supported by the evidence. The high court agreed, noting that the father put significant effort into helping the mother with her drug treatment, and her failures could not be attributed to him. The high court did not disturb the jury’s conclusions regarding the other elements to support termination, but the ruling was reversed because of a procedural issue with the jury instructions. Although the lower ruling was technically reversed, it is likely that the rehearing will end with the same result.

Challenging a Parental Termination Proceeding

If you or a loved one is facing a child welfare or parental termination proceeding, time is of the essence. Once proceedings start against a parent, small failures and missteps can have permanent consequences. By consulting and retaining a qualified Texas family law attorney from the start, you can make the strongest case to retain your parental rights. The experienced Texas family law attorneys at Guest and Gray understand child welfare proceedings, and we will fight for your rights if you hire us. Our lawyers accept cases throughout Texas on a variety of family law issues, including child welfare and parental termination proceedings. Contact our offices at 972-564-4644 and schedule a free consultation today.

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