Lower court ruling granted rights, possession to deceased mother’s fiancé
AUSTIN, Texas – The father of a five-year-old girl is fighting for his parental rights after a trial court judge in Denton County awarded partial custody of his daughter to the fiancé of the child’s now-deceased mother.
The child’s mother died in an automobile accident in 2018. Following her death, the child’s maternal grandparents and the mother’s fiancé of two months sought joint custody with the father. But while the grandparents’ case was dismissed, a court granted the fiancé rights and possession of the child, based on a Texas law that allows a non-relative to sue for custody if that person lived in the child’s primary home for at least six months. The fiancé had lived with the girl’s mother for between 10 and11 months, and the child was in the home for a little more than half that period.
On March 25, the Supreme Court of Texas will hear oral arguments to determine if the lower court ruling will stand.
North Texas attorneys Holly J. Draper of The Draper Law Firm and Brad LaMorgese of boutique Family Law firm Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson represent the girl’s biological father, who the court found to be a fit parent.
“Under the current state of Texas law, it is easier for a non-relative who lived in a child’s primary home for at least six months and was minimally involved in a child’s life to get in the door on a custody case than it is for grandparents and other relatives who have been actively involved in the child’s life for years,” said Ms. Draper.
She notes the landmark case of Troxel v. Granville, where the U.S. Supreme Court held that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment protects the rights of a fit parent to parent his or her child without government interference. The Supreme Court further held that a trial court cannot substitute its opinion as to the best interest of a child for that of a fit parent.
“We are arguing that the trial court judge abused her discretion and violated the father’s constitutional rights when she awarded rights and possession to the deceased mother’s fiancé over the fit father’s objections,” said Ms. Draper.
“This case is an important child custody case for all fit parents. If the Texas Supreme Court rules against us, it could give virtual strangers parental rights and possession of our children,” said Mr. LaMorgese.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Texas Public Policy Foundation are also participating in oral arguments before the Supreme Court of Texas in support of the father’s rights. Other groups have also voiced support, including the Texas Home School Coalition, the Parental Rights Foundation, the Alliance Defending Freedom and A Voice for Choice Advocacy.
The case is IN RE C.J.C. Case No: 19-0694 in the Supreme Court of Texas.