Articles Posted in Family Law

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Mother had a history of drug use, had been incarcerated for heroin use, and was observed injecting heroin days before the San Antonio Department of Family and Protective Services filed a petition with respect to two-year-old M.M. Months earlier, M.M. had suffered a cigarette burn on her arm. At pretrial hearings, the court found that Mother was not in compliance with her service plan. The Department expressed concern regarding the Mother’s mental stability. Before trial, Mother signed a statutorily compliant affidavit of relinquishment of parental rights,TEX. FAM. CODE 161.103. Mother testified that she had signed the affidavit without coercion and that she signed it truly believing that doing so was in M.M.’s best interest. The caseworker testified that relinquishment of Mother’s parental rights was in the child’s best interest and that M.M. was in the care of a grandmother providing a safe and secure home. The court rendered a final judgment terminating the Mother’s parental rights. Mother changed her mind and appealed. The court of appeals reversed, reasoning that “the Department was not relieved of its burden to prove best interest" when a parent executed a voluntary affidavit of relinquishment. The Texas Supreme Court reversed. Because Mother’s appeal is not “limited to issues relating to fraud, duress, or coercion” under section 161.211(c), but was based on insufficiency of the evidence, the appeal is foreclosed by statute. View "In the Interest of M.M., a Child" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The San Antonio Department of Family and Protective Services brought suit on behalf of K.S.L., an infant, stating that Mother had tested positive for drugs. Father later admitted he had relapsed. There was an open legal case concerning the parents and another daughter. The affidavit detailed several incidents of possession, use, and sale of illegal drugs by both parents, including a high-speed chase with the children as passengers. The Department initially sought reunification but the court concluded that the parents were not able to provide K.S.L. with a safe environment and that returning her to the parents was not in her best interest. Both parents signed affidavits of voluntary relinquishment of parental rights, represented by counsel. The caseworker testified that the relinquishments were in K.S.L.’s best interest and that arrangement had been made for an uncle to adopt her. The court signed an order of termination, finding by clear and convincing evidence that the parents had signed irrevocable affidavits of relinquishment, and the terminations were in K.S.L.’s best interest. Days later, both parents appealed on the ground that the evidence was insufficient to support the best-interest finding. The court of appeals reversed, holding, “the Department did not meet its burden to establish ... that termination … is in the child’s best interest.” The Supreme Court of Texas reversed, rejecting due process arguments. The parents’ affidavits complied with all statutory directives, Family Code sections: 161.001(b) and 161.211. View "In the Interest of K.S.L., a Child" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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At issue in this appeal from a Title IV-D associate judge’s order modifying conservatorship and child support for three children was whether the Title IV-D associate judge had authority to enter an order modifying conservatorship. The court of appeals reversed the associate judge’s order on the ground that the Title IV-D associate judge had no authority to enter an order modifying conservatorship before recent amendments to the Family Code to expressly grant Title IV-D associate judges such authority. The court of appeals also reversed on the independent ground that the associate judge erred by failing to consider the children’s father’s request to participate in the hearing remotely from prison. The Supreme Court affirmed solely on the independent ground that the associate judge failed to consider Father’s request to participate in the hearing by alternative means. The court, however, disagreed with the court of appeals’ ruling that the Title IV-D associate judge lacked authority to enter the order modifying conservatorship and child support, holding that the former version of the Texas Family Code grants Title IV-D associate judges authority to modify conservatorship when, as here, the modification relates to the establishment, enforcement, or modification of a child-support obligation. View "Office of Attorney General of Texas" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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In 2013, the Mayor of Houston directed that same-sex spouses of employees who have been legally married in another jurisdiction be afforded the same benefits as spouses of a heterosexual marriage. Plaintiffs, Houston taxpayers and voters, filed suit against the City and its Mayor challenging the Mayor’s directive authorizing expenditures and the City’s provision of benefits pursuant to that directive. Specifically, Plaintiffs argued that the Mayor’s directive authorizing the expenditures violated Texas’s and the City’s defense of marriage acts. The trial court granted a temporary injunction prohibiting the Mayor from furnishing benefits to persons who were married in other jurisdictions to City employees of the same sex. While Defendants’ interlocutory appeal was pending, the United States Supreme Court held in Obergefell v. Hodges, __ U.S. __ (2015) that states may not exclude same sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as opposite sex couples. The court of appeals subsequently reversed the temporary injunction and remanded the case. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment, vacated the trial court’s orders and remanded, holding that the court’s opinion and judgment imposed greater restrictions on remand the Obergefell and this court’s precedent required. View "Pidgeon v. Turner" on Justia Law

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At issue in this family law dispute was whether a mediated settlement agreement (MSA) entered into the parties after nearly two years of divorce proceedings partitioned a discretionary employee bonus Husband received nine months after the divorce decree was entered. Husband argued that the bonus constituted future income and earnings that were partitioned to him under the MSA. Wife argued that part of the bonus was earned during the marriage and constituted undivided community property. The trial court granted summary judgment for Husband. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the MSA partitioned the bonus, and therefore, the trial court properly granted summary judgment for Husband. View "Loya v. Loya" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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During their marriage, Respondent and Petitioner produced one child and a $30 million marital estate. During marriage-dissolution proceedings, the parties executed two agreements settling all issues. The trial court orally approved the settlement agreements and granted the divorce petitions, and more than one year passed before the trial court’s rulings were reduced to writing in a final divorce decree. Petitioner filed several post-judgment motions challenging the decree, arguing that the child support and child custody provisions in the final decree materially deviated from the parties’ agreement. The trial court substantially denied Petitioner relief. Petitioner appealed, challenging the property division and child welfare provisions of the divorce decree. Applying the estoppel-based acceptance-of-benefits doctrine, which preludes a litigant from challenging a judgment after voluntarily accepting the judgment’s benefits, the court of appeals dismissed the appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the acceptance-of-benefits doctrine is a fact-dependent, estoppel-based doctrine focused on preventing unfair prejudice to the opposing party; and (2) the factors informing the equitable inquiry did not favor an estoppel in this case. View "Kramer v. Kastleman" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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In 2001, Preston and Victoria Oschner divorced. The trial court ordered that Preston pay Victoria monthly child support. The child support order required Preston to make payments to his daughter’s school and, when she switched schools, to make payments through a registry. Preston, however, paid the new school directly and paid more than $20,000 above the total amount that the child-support order contemplated through the registry. Almost a decade later, Victoria brought a child-support enforcement action against Preston to recover the balance that Preston failed to pay through the registry. The trial court ruled in favor of Preston, concluding that the direct tuition payments satisfied the child-support obligation. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the trial court was barred from considering Preston’s direct tuition payments when confirming the amount of arrearages. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a trial court in a child-support enforcement proceeding may consider evidence of direct payments like those in this case that were made when confirming the amount of arrearages; and (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the support Preston provided discharged his obligation. View "Ochsner v. Ochsner" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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Steven Phillips was convicted of and pled guilty to several crimes. A DNA test conducted several years later excluded Phillips as the perpetrator. The trial court granted habeas relief. Thereafter, Phillips applied to the Comptroller for wrongful imprisonment compensation under the Tim Cole Act (“the Act”). The Comptroller found that Phillips was due $2 million for the time he was incarcerated. Phillips also requested compensation for child support he had failed to pay. A 1978 Arkansas divorce decree ordered Phillips to pay Cheryl Macumber child support. In 2013, Macumber sued Phillips in Texas to register and enforce the Arkansas divorce decree. The trial court rendered judgment (“the Enforcement Judgment”) for Macumber, finding she was entitled to $304,861. Phillips requested that the Comptroller pay child support compensation based on the amount awarded by the Enforcement Judgment. The Comptroller concluded that compensation owed under the Act was $25,125. Phillips petitioned for mandamus relief. The Supreme Court granted conditional relief, holding (1) the Comptroller is not bound by a court’s judgment in a child support enforcement proceeding; (2) the Comptroller’s determinations are subject to review by the Supreme Court; and (3) in this case, the Comptroller is directed to recalculate the compensation owed to Phillips under section 103.052(1)(2) of the Act. View "In re Phillips" on Justia Law

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In In re P.M., the Supreme Court concluded that, in government-initiated parental rights termination proceedings, the statutory right of indigent parents to counsel endures until all appeals are exhausted. In this case, the trial court terminated the parental rights of C.S.F. The court of appeals affirmed. Acting pro se and outside the time for filing a petition for review, C.S.F. filed a motion in the Supreme Court seeking an extension of time and a hand-written indigency affidavit. The Supreme Court referred the case to the trial court for appointment of counsel to represent C.S.F. in the Supreme Court, holding that C.S.F. should be able to pursue any argument regarding her case with the assistance of new counsel. View "C.S.F. v. Dep’t of Family & Protective Servs." on Justia Law

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Petitioners were six individuals who sued for divorce in Tarrant County between 2008 and 2012. Petitioners filed uncontested affidavits of indigence in lieu of paying costs pursuant to Tex. R. Civ. P. 145, but Petitioners’ final divorce decrees nevertheless allocated costs. In 2012, the District Clerk of Tarrant County sent collection notices to each Petitioner demanding about $300 in court costs and fees and threatening the seizure of Petitioners’ property to satisfy the debt. Petitioners sued for mandamus, injunctive, and declaratory relief in a district court that had not issued any of their divorce decrees. The district court temporarily enjoined the District Clerk from collecting court costs from indigent parties who have filed an affidavit on indigency. The court of appeals vacated the injunction and dismissed the case because the trial court had not rendered the judgments in the cases in which costs were billed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the district court had jurisdiction over the petitions; and (2) the temporary injunction was proper. Remanded. View "Campbell v. Wilder" on Justia Law