Justices reverse lower court ruling that had granted partial custody to deceased mother’s fiancé
AUSTIN, Texas – The Supreme Court of Texas has unanimously upheld the constitutional rights of fit parents by ruling in favor of the biological father of a 5-year-old girl. The ruling reverses a Denton County trial court judge’s order that had granted partial custody to the fiancé of the child’s deceased mother and directs the lower court to vacate its temporary order.
“The ruling by the Supreme Court of Texas is a huge win for all parents in Texas,” said Holly Draper of The Draper Law Firm and lead counsel on the case. “In finding that the trial court judge violated the father’s constitutional rights when she awarded partial custody to a non-parent over the father’s objections, the court has confirmed that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment protects the rights of a fit parent to parent a child without government interference.”
Ms. Draper’s arguments centered on the landmark parental rights case from the United States Supreme Court, Troxel v. Granville.
The closely watched case has garnered national attention because of the lower court’s ruling that granted partial custody to a non-parent and because of its important constitutional implications for other parents in Texas.
In its ruling, the Texas Supreme Court held that when a fit parent’s rights for access or custody to the child are challenged by a non-parent, the court’s best interest analysis must include the presumption that a fit parent acts in the best interest of the child.
The case began when the child’s mother died in an automobile accident in 2018. The child’s maternal grandparents and the mother’s fiancé of three months sought joint custody with the biological father. But while the grandparents’ case was dismissed, the Denton County judge granted the fiancé rights and partial possession of the child.
Texas law allows a non-relative who has lived in a child’s primary home for at least six months to fight for custody, making the process simpler for a non-parent than grandparents and other relatives. The fiancé in this case had lived with the girl’s mother for between 10 and 11 months, and the child was in the home for a little more than half that period.
Ms. Draper along with Brad LaMorgese of boutique Family Law firm Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson represented the girl’s biological father. Oral arguments took place through Zoom video conferencing April 22 after COVID-19 concerns postponed the original March court date.
“This is an important child custody case for all fit parents,” said Mr. LaMorgese. “We are grateful the court agreed with our argument and ultimately ruled in our favor.”
The Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Texas Public Policy Foundation participated in oral arguments in support of the biological father’s rights. Overall, nine groups voiced support for the father’s case, including the State of Texas, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Texas Home School Coalition, Alliance Defending Freedom, Parental Rights Foundation, Texas Association of Family Defense Attorneys, Texas Values and A Voice for Choice Advocacy.
The case is IN RE C.J.C. Case No: 19-0694 in the Supreme Court of Texas.