Justia Texas Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Family Law
In re F.E.N.
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
In re Interest of Z.M.M.
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
In re Interest of N.G.
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
In re A.L.M.-F.
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
In re Interest of A.C.
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
Bradshaw v. Bradshaw
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
Dalton v. Dalton
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
In re Marriage of I.C.
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
In re H.S.
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that Grandparents lacked standing to pursue a suit affecting the parent-child relationship (SAPCR) under Tex. Fam. Code 102.003(a)(9). Section 102.003(a)(9) confers standing to pursue a SAPCR on nonparents who have had “actual care, control, and possession of the child for at least six months.” The child at issue in this case lived in Grandparents’ home for the first twenty-three months of her life. During the last eight of those months, Grandparents were the child’s primary caretakers and providers. Grandparents filed a petition to modify a SAPCR order requesting conservatorship of the child. The trial court dismissed the petition, determining that Grandparents did not establish that they had “actual care” or “actual control” over the child for the six-month period preceding their petition filing. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Grandparents, having continuously engaged in a parent-like role on a day-to-day basis during the statutory time period, had standing to pursue a SAPCR under section 102.003(a)(9). View "In re H.S." on Justia Law
In re C.Y.K.S.
The prohibition in Texas Fam. Code 231.211(a) that courts may not assess costs at the conclusion of a Title VI-D case against a party who was provided services by the Title IV-D agency applies to courts of appeals. Shana Williams filed a suit that resulted in a determination that Christopher Spates was the father of Williams’ child and an order that he pay child support. The trial court later signed a modification order that retroactively reduced Spates’s child support obligation. Williams subsequently moved successfully to void the modification order based on a procedural anomaly. The court of appeals reinstated the modification order and assessed court costs against Williams. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) moved for rehearing regarding the assessment of costs, arguing that section 231.211(a) prohibited the assessment. The court of appeals denied the motion on the grounds that the prohibition does not apply to appellate courts. The Supreme Court reversed on this issue, holding that the OAG has statutory standing to bring this appeal and that section 231.211(a)’s prohibition of the assessment of fees and costs applies to both trial courts and appellate courts. View "In re C.Y.K.S." on Justia Law