AUSTIN — Just this morning, the Supreme Court of Texas (SCOT) handed down a decision in a landmark court case for parental rights, In re C.J.C. The case sets a major precedent for future parental rights cases that are heard in Texas.
A recent review of the last 20 years of cases found that Texas courts are systematically ignoring the constitutional rights of parents. Advocates hope that today’s decision is the new beginning that Texas families need to turn this statistic around.
For months, Chris and his 5-year-old daughter, Ann, have been fighting a decision made by a Texas district court to grant an unrelated man custody of Ann over Chris’ objections. Today, that fight came to an end as the Supreme Court of Texas ruled to permanently reunite Chris and Ann.
Nearly two years ago, Ann’s mother died in a tragic car accident. Shortly after the death of Ann’s mother, the man that Ann’s mother had been dating (and was briefly engaged to) at the time of her death sued Ann’s father for custody of Ann.
Despite spending less than six months with Ann and being completely unrelated to her, this man argued that briefly being engaged to (and living with) Ann’s mother should give him the right to custody of Ann. He also argued that he had just as great a right to custody of Ann as Ann’s father did.
However, this unrelated man acknowledges openly that Ann’s father, Chris, was an entirely fit parent. In response to the unrelated man’s lawsuit, a district court gave custody of Ann to the unrelated man over Chris’ objections.
In the Supreme Court of Texas’ landmark ruling, the Court overturned the lower court rulings and squarely rejected the unrelated man’s argument that the law does not presume that Chris has a right to raise Ann.
The Supreme Court of Texas reaffirmed the longstanding constitutional rules that parents are presumed to be fit and that the actions of fit parents are presumed to be in the best interests of their children.
Chris and Ann’s case may be the most significant parental rights case in Texas history. Had Chris and Ann lost their case, parents in Texas would have been opened up to possible lawsuits from a slew of nonparents. Those nonparents could have taken custody of children from entirely fit parents had the Supreme Court of Texas ruled differently.
Instead, the court ruled in favor of families, finding that Chris was a “loving and attentive parent” and that “a court must apply the presumption that a fit parent—not the court—determines the best interest of the child in any proceeding in which a nonparent seeks conservatorship or access over the objection of a child’s fit parent.”
Today’s decision follows a months-long legal battle before the court in which numerous organizations and the State of Texas filed briefs before the court, defending Chris and Ann.
This is a commentary submitted and republished with the author’s permission. If you wish to submit a commentary to Texas Scorecard, please submit your article to [email protected]sscorecard.com.