Justia Texas Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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In this termination of parental rights action the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals rejecting Mother's ineffective assistance of counsel claim, holding that Mother's ineffective assistance claim failed under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).The State sought termination of Mother's parental rights to her child. The trial court found that Mother was indigent and appointed counsel to represent her. After the jury found that grounds existed for termination and that termination was in the child's best interest Mother's retained counsel filed a notice of appeal. Thereafter, the retained counsel was suspended from the practice of law. The trial court then appointed Mother's appellate counsel. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that Mother could not raise an ineffective assistance of counsel challenge because her counsel was retained rather than appointed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) parents in government-initiated suits to terminate the parent-child relationship who retain counsel of their choosing may also challenge their counsel's performance by asserting an ineffective assistance claim; but (2) Mother's ineffective assistance claim failed under Strickland. View "In re Interest of D.T." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the trial court naming Aunt and Uncle managing conservators of parents' two children, naming Mother and Father possessory conservators, and stating that, in the absence of mutual agreement, Mother could have supervised visitation with the children at the discretion of the managing conservator, holding that there was no error.In affirming, the court of appeals determined that the evidence was sufficient to support the terms of the visitation order, that the terms of the order were permissible upon a finding that they were in the best interest of the children, and denying Mother's constitutional challenge to Tex. Fam. Code 262.201(o). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) because the trial court could have reasonably concluded that a restriction on Mother's right of access was in the children's best interest, there was not abuse of discretion; and (2) Mother's constitutional challenges were rendered moot by the trial court's issuance of a final order. View "In re J.J.R.S." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court terminating Father's parental rights to his daughter, Julie, holding that the evidence supported the trial court's finding that Father engaged in conduct that endangered Julie's physical or emotional well-being.Julie was an infant when Father reported to prison. Father emerged from prison when Julie was an adolescent and living with a foster family with her half-sisters. After a hearing, the trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that the State had met its burden of proof to terminate Father's parental rights to Julie on the ground that Father had engaged in conduct or knowingly placed Julie with persons who engaged in conduct that endangered the physical or emotional well-being of Julie. The court further found that termination of Father's parental rights was in Julie's best interest. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the evidence supported the trial court's findings and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in terminating Father's parental rights. View "In re J.F.-G." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court terminating Parents' parental rights to their two children, holding that the trial court remained vested with jurisdiction over the suit when it entered the final decree.In their appeal, Parents argued that the trial court's final decree terminating their parental rights was void because the trial on the merits did not commence before the dismissal date and because Tex. Fam. Code 263.401 divested the trial court of jurisdiction before the final degree was signed. The court of appeals held that the final decree was void because the trial court did not timely commence trial on the merits, thus stripping the court of jurisdiction. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, under the facts and circumstances of this case, the trial court had jurisdiction when it entered the final decree. View "In re G.X.H." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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In this appeal of a no-answer default judgment in a divorce case the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's judgment, holding that the trial court erred in denying Husband's motion for new trial because the content of Husband's affidavit was sufficient to satisfy the standard set forth under Craddock v. Sunshine Bus Lines, Inc., 133 S.W.2d 124 (Tex. 1939).After Husband defaulted, he filed a motion for new trial, arguing that equitable grounds existed under the Craddock standard and that legal grounds existed regarding improper service or notice of suit. The trial court sustained a hearsay objection to Husband's affidavit and other documents filed with his motion and then denied the new trial. The appellant court affirmed, concluding that formal defects rendered the affidavit inadmissible as sworn testimony, and therefore, Husband possessed insufficient proof of the required elements of Craddock. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Husband's affidavit was sufficient to satisfy the Craddock standard for obtaining a new trial; (2) the affidavit was not based on hearsay; and (3) because no formal defects were raised in the trial court, the appellate court erred in affirming based on a formal defect that was not preserved for review. View "In re Marriage of Sandoval" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court conditionally granted relief to Mother on her petition for mandamus and directed the trial court to vacate its order holding Mother in contempt, holding that Mother was entitled to her requested relief.After a hearing, the trial court signed an enforcement order finding Mother in contempt of forty-eight violations of an agreed order the trial court entered upon the separation of Mother and Father. On appeal, Mother argued that the agreed order was too ambiguous to be enforced by contempt. The Supreme Court agreed and granted a writ of mandamus to Mother, holding that the agreed order could not support the contempt order because it did not "set forth the terms of compliance in clear, specific, and unambiguous terms." View "In re Pamela Janson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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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

Posted in: Family 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

Posted in: Family 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

Posted in: Family 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

Posted in: Family Law