Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Texas
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The Supreme Court conditionally granted Father's petition for writ of mandamus, holding that when a nonparent requests conservatorship or possession of a child, the child's best interest is rooted in the presumption that the fit parent, rather than a court, makes the determination whether to allow that request. Over Father's objection, the trial court entered temporary orders naming Jason a possessory conservator of Abigail with rights to possession of the child. Jason, who was in a relationship with Abigail's mother until she died, had exercised care and control of Abigail when she resided with Mother for at least six months preceding Mother's death. Father filed a petition for writ of mandamus, arguing that the trial court's orders violated his right to parent Abigail without government intervention. The Supreme Court conditionally granted the writ and directed the trial court to vacate its temporary orders, holding (1) the presumption that fit parents act according to the best interest of their children applies when modifying an existing order that names a parent as the child's managing conservator; and (2) because no evidence demonstrated that Father was unfit to be Abigail's parent or did not act in her best interest, the trial court abused its discretion in ordering that Jason be named Abigail's possessory conservator. View "In re C.J.C." on Justia Law

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In this termination of parental rights case the Supreme Court granted Father's petition and affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's termination of Father's parental rights, holding that there was no error that warranted reversal as to the termination of Father's parental rights but that the court of appeals erred by not detailing its analysis as required by In re N.G., 577 S.W.3d 230 (Tex. 2019). The trial court found clear and convincing evidence of ground to terminate Father's parental rights under Tex. Family Code 161.001(b)(1)(D),(E),(F),(N), and (O). The court further found that termination was in the child's best interest. The court of appeals affirmed. Father appealed, arguing, among other things, that the court of appeals erred by failing to detail its analysis of the trial court's findings as to grounds (D) and (E) in violation of In re N.G. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the court of appeals properly found that termination was warranted in this case but erred in not detailing its analysis of whether legally and factually sufficient evidence supported termination of parental rights under section 161.001(b)(1)(D) and (E). View "In re Interest of L.G." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the order of the trial court terminating Mother's parental rights and remanding the case for a new trial, holding that Mother was not properly admonished about her rights as required by Tex. Fam. Code 263.0061. At every permanency hearing, Mother appeared without counsel but was not further admonished about her statutory right to legal representation. The trial court subsequently terminated Mother's parental rights. Mother then filed an affidavit of indigence and a notice of appeal. After a hearing, the trial court found Mother indigent and appointed counsel to represent her on appeal. The court of appeals reversed and remanded the case for a new trial, holding that Mother was entitled to appointed counsel because there was sufficient indication in the record that she was indigent, such that the trial court should have conducted further inquiry into her status. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the court of appeals erred in holding that the trial court was required to conduct a pre-trial inquiry into Mother's indigency status; but (2) a new termination trial was required because the trial court failed to give mandatory statutory admonishments regarding the right to appointed counsel. View "In re Interest of B.C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals holding that a memorandum order modifying possession and child support final and appealable, rendering the trial court's later order void and Mother's appeal untimely, holding that the trial court's later "Order in Suit to Modify Parent-Child Relationship," and not the memorandum order, was the appealable order and that Mother's notice of appeal was timely filed. Child's parents obtained a court order establishing possession and support obligations for Child. One year later, Father moved to modify the order. The trial court issued a "memorandum" modifying some aspects of the parties' possession and support obligations and removing others. Father later moved for entry of a final order. The trial court then entered an "Order in Suit to Modify Parent-Child Relationship." Mother appealed. The court of appeals dismissed the appeal as untimely, holding that the trial court's memorandum constituted a final order. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case, holding (1) the memorandum order lacked "clear and unequivocal" indicia of finality, requiring an examination of the record to determine the trial court's intent; and (2) the record demonstrated that the trial court's later order was the final order. View "In re R.R.K." on Justia Law

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In this divorce action, The Supreme Court reversed in part the court of appeals' judgment reversing the trial court's judgment entering a final decree of divorce incorporating the terms of the parties' mediated settlement agreement (MSA), holding that the court erred in rendering judgment on the MSA in Wife's absence. Before Husband filed a divorce petition Husband and Wife executed an MSA dividing the martial estate and settling child custody issues. Husband then filed the divorce petition. Husband appeared in court for a hearing at the of which the trial court orally rendered judgment on the MSA. Wife did not attend because she did not receive notice of the hearing. Wife later moved to set aside the judgment and to revoke the MSA. The trial court denied the motions and entered a final decree of divorce incorporating the MSA's terms. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) an MSA that resolves the parties' property division and conservatorship issues can satisfy all statutory requirements if it is executed before a petition for divorce is filed; but (2) because Wife did not receive the notice to which she was constitutionally entitled the trial court erred in rendering judgment on the MSA in her absence. View "Highsmith v. Highsmith" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals upholding the trial court's judgment terminating Mother's parental rights to her fourteen-year-old, holding that the court of appeals erred in failing to address Mother's challenge to the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's finding under Tex. Fam. Code 161.001(b)(1)(D). The trial court terminated Mother's rights to the child under Tex. Family Code 161.003 and 161.003(b)(1)(D),(N), and (O) based on evidence that Mother was subjecting the child to prostitution. The court of appeals affirmed based only on section 161.001(b)(1)(O) and held that termination was in the child's best interest. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the court of appeals (1) correctly found that the evidence was legally sufficient to uphold the determination that termination of Mother's parental rights was in the child's best interest, but (2) erred in failing to address Mother's challenge to the section 161.001(b)(1)(D) finding. View "In re Interest of C.W." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied the petition for review filed by the Department of Family and Protective Services challenging the court of appeals' reversal of an order of the trial court granting the Department sole managing conservatorship of a child, Fay, holding that the court of appeals properly remanded the issue of conservatorship for a new trial. The issue of sole managing conservatorship was part of a larger proceeding that resulted in the termination of the parental rights of Fay's parents. The court of appeals reversed to the extent the trial court terminated Father's parental rights and awarded sole managing conservatorship to the Department, concluding that no evidence supported the termination of Father's parental rights and that the Department's appointment as sole managing conservator was an abuse of discretion. The conservatorship issues were severed and remanded for a new trial. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the record with respect to conservatorship was not adequately developed. View "In re F.E.N." on Justia Law

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In this parental termination case, the Supreme Court remanded this case to the court of appeals for further proceedings, holding that the court of appeals erred in finding that the evidence was sufficient to terminate Father's parental rights under Tex. Fam. Code 161.001(b)(1)(O) without addressing Father's challenge to section 161.001(b)(1)(D). The trial court terminated Father's parental rights under three grounds for termination specified in the Texas Family Code - sections 161.001(b)(1)(D), (N), and (O). On appeal, Father challenged the sufficiency of the evidence as to all three grounds. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's order for termination based only on section 161.001(b)(1)(O). The Supreme Court remanded the case for further proceedings, holding (1) in light of In re N.G., __ S.W.3d __ (Tex. 2019), in which the Court held that due process requires an appellate court to review and detail its analysis as to termination of parental rights under section 161.001(b)(1)(D) or (e) when challenge on appeal, the court of appeals erred failing to address Father's challenge as to section 161.001(b)(1)(O); and (2) the court of appeals erred in failing to address the merits of section 161.001(d) as it relates to termination of Father's parental rights under section 161.001(b)(1)(O). View "In re Interest of Z.M.M." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's termination of Mother's parental rights, holding that the court of appeals erred in failing to review the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence to support Tex. Fam. Code 161.001(b)(1)(D) and (E) findings as grounds for termination and in failing to address the specificity of the order under section 161.001(b)(1)(O). The trial court terminated both parents' parental rights under section 161.001(b)(1)(D), (E), and (O) and found that termination was in the child's best interest. The court of appeals affirmed, finding termination sufficient under section 161.001(b)(1)(O) but declining to review the legal or factual sufficiency of the evidence under section 161.001(b)(1)(D) or (E). The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings, holding (1) due process requires that an appellate court detail its analysis for an appeal of termination of parental rights under section 161.001(b)(1)(D) or (E); and (2) the court of appeals erred in failing to review the trial court's order to ensure it was sufficiently specific to warrant termination under section 161.001(b)(1)(O). View "In re Interest of N.G." on Justia Law

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In this termination of parental rights case the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the trial court denying Mother's jury demand in a de novo hearing under Tex. Family Code 201.015 after Mother waived her right to a jury trial before the associate judge, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion. The trial court referred this case to an associate judge for adjudication on the merits, and the parties waived the right to a jury trial. Following a bench trial, the associate judge terminated Mother's parental rights. Mother then demanded a jury trial and requested a de novo hearing on the issue of evidence sufficiency. The referring judge denied the jury request and set a de novo hearing. The court then terminated Mother's parental rights. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 201.015 permits, but does not require, the referring court to grant a jury trial demand made for the first time at the de novo hearing stage; and (2) under the circumstances of this case, the trial court was not obligated to grant Mother's jury demand. View "In re A.L.M.-F." on Justia Law