Justia Texas Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family 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

Posted in: Family 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

Posted in: Family 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

Posted in: Family 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

Posted in: Family 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

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals in this government-initiated termination proceeding, holding that a parent’s unrecanted and uncontroverted admission that termination is in her children’s best interests, coupled with stipulations as to grounds for termination and permanency plans, are evidence to support the trial court’s best-interest findings. In this case involving the five children of Mother and the three men alleged to be the children’s fathers, the trial court found grounds to terminate the parent-child relationships and that termination of each parent-child relationship was in that child’s best interest. The court approved and incorporated into its final order a mediated settlement agreement (MSA) signed by the parents, counsel, and others in which the parents stipulated that their parental rights would be terminated on two statutory grounds and best interests. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the evidence in the form of statements in the MSA was sufficient to support termination. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a parent’s voluntary and affirmative statements that termination of parental rights is in the child’s best interest in an MSA satisfies the requirement that a best-interest finding be supported by clear and convincing evidence. View "In re Interest of A.C." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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At issue in this divorce case was whether the trial court properly divided the parties’ community home eighty percent to Wife and twenty percent to Husband where Husband had been convicted for the continuous sexual abuse of Wife’s daughter and where Husband used the family home to commit the abuse. The court of appeals affirmed the property division, concluding that “[t]he division should not be a punishment for the spouse at fault.” Wife appealed, arguing that the division was not just and right. A plurality of the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings, holding that where Husband was convicted of using community property to sexually abuse his stepdaughter, it was not “just and right,” as a matter of law, to award Husband an interest in the family home. View "Bradshaw v. Bradshaw" on Justia Law

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Trial court orders enforcing an agreed spousal-support obligation, specifically, a wage-withholding order and an order assigning retirement benefits to enforce unpaid spousal support, were void. An Oklahoma court entered an order approving and incorporating the parties’ agreements regarding spousal-support obligations. After Husband filed for divorce in Texas, Wife filed the Oklahoma order in the Texas court. The court granted the divorce, incorporating the agreements as approved in the Oklahoma order. The court then issued various post-divorce orders to enforce Husband’s obligations. Husband appealed, challenging a qualified domestic relations order assigning Wife interests in Husband’s retirement accounts and the order dismissing his motion to vacate a wage-withholding order. The court of appeals affirmed as modified. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) wage withholding is not available to support all spousal-support judgments in Texas; and (2) the trial court acted without statutory authority when it assigned additional interests in Husband’s retirement accounts to Wife for Husband’s support arrearages. View "Dalton v. Dalton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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In this divorce case, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the finding of the trial court that Wife’s attempt to rescind a premarital agreement triggered a clause in the agreement under which Wife lost a $5 million payment otherwise due to her. Prior to the parties’ marriage, they entered into an “Agreement in Contemplation of Marriage” under which Husband would make a lump-sum cash payment to Wife upon the entry of a divorce decree. The Agreement also contained a “no-contest” or “forfeiture” clause, under which Wife would lose her contractual right to the lump-sum payment. After Husband filed for divorce, Wife requested rescission of the Agreement. Ultimately, the trial court concluded that Wife forfeited any cash payment under the Agreement. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that by unsuccessfully seeking rescission of the Agreement and pursuing that remedy throughout the litigation, Wife lost her contractual right to the lump-sum payment under the Agreement. View "In re Marriage of I.C." on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts, Family Law