Lawyers Target Parents

We have been battling to restore the fundamental, constitutional right of parents in Texas for many years, especially in regard to the lawsuit abuse related to the area of family law known as the Grandparent Access Statute. As I have explained on many occasions, this well-meaning statute allows a grandparent, whose child in a marriage is deceased, divorced without custody of children, or has been incarcerated in jail or prison, to sue the surviving/custodial parent for visitation or actual possession of the grandchildren.

The parents who are sued under this statute are not abusive or neglectful but instead are “fit” parents who are providing for and caring for their children. This statute is being abused by judges and attorneys who are using it as a vehicle to override the constitutional right of a parent to direct the care, control, and upbringing of their children on behalf of non-parents who disagree with the legitimate parenting decisions of the parent. This legislative session we have filed HB 2547 and SB 1194 as the Texas Parental Rights Restoration Act (TPRRA) in order to build on the work we did last session to protect parents from this lawsuit abuse in family law courts.

While we have been working to end the lawsuit abuse of parents by amending this statute, the Family Law Foundation, representing family law attorneys of Texas, has adamantly opposed any change in this law at all. In fact, their supporters have filed bills that will make the matter worse. Next week the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence will hold a hearing on SB 1148, which is sponsored by the chairman of that committee, Sen. Royce West (D) from Dallas. Senator West has canceled meetings scheduled with us and refuses to meet with us to allow us to explain our concerns.

SB 1148 will change the law in several dramatic ways that will make virtually every family in Texas a target for grandparents who strongly disagree with their parenting decisions. This measure will allow any grandparent to sue any family for access or possession instead of only those where a death, divorce, or incarceration has taken place. In addition, the requirement under the current statute, that the grandparent prove that denial of the access or possession will significantly impair the physical health or emotional well-being, is lowered by not requiring expert testimony or opinion to so prove.

In other words, every Texas family will be subject to these lawsuits, and a judge can accept any opinion or testimony from anyone that the denial of the access or possession would “significantly impair the physical health or emotional well-being of the child.”

The result of this bill becoming law will mean that only those families that have the financial resources to defend their parental rights against the legal assault of non-parents will continue to effectively have the right to direct the care, control, and upbringing of their children.

Attend the Hearing:

The hearing will be at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19, in Room 2E.20 (Betty King Committee Room) in the Capitol Extension. We need:

  • People at the hearing to register against the bill without giving testimony,
  • People who have been through these kinds of experiences to give oral and/or written testimony, and
  • Family law attorneys to testify against the bill.

Contact Trent Williams (512-763-2303), THSC Legislative Team – to let us know you are coming.

Call to Action:

Call those members of the Senate Jurisprudence Committee (listed below) who are not yet opposed to the bill and tell them:

  1. This bill goes too far in allowing non-parents to sue fit parents.
  2. The bill allows a judge to overrule the constitutional right of fit parents on the basis of testimony from anyone instead of an expert regarding what would “significantly impair the physical health or emotional well-being of a child.”
  3. This measure will directly impact the low-income parents who are not able to bear the financial burden to protect their parental rights.
  4. Parental rights are for all parents, not just those who have financial means.

Chair:
Sen. Royce West – 512-463-0123

Vice Chair:
Sen. José R. Rodríguez – 512-463-0129

Members:
Sen. Donna Campbell – 512-463-0125
Sen. John Carona – 512-463-0116
Sen. Sylvia Garcia – 512-463-0106
Sen. Kelly Hancock – 512-463-0109
Sen. Ken Paxton – 512-463-0108

Comments

  1. Tim Lambert says

    Getting reports that Senator West’s staff is saying that this legislation applies only to “unfit” parents. Not true. Here is a response from a very experienced family law attorney opposing this bill:

    “It sounds like there may be a game of semantics going on with this.

    “In Troxel, the U.S. Supreme Court held that there was a presumption that a fit parent acts in the best interest of his child. Fit is defined as any parent that adequately provides for the child. Although it went on to hold that the particular grandparents in that case hadn’t overcome the presumption, it didn’t specify all the facts, circumstances, or types of evidence that would overcome the presumption.

    “In an abundance of caution, the Texas Legislature amended the law to specify a pretty high standard that had to be met in order to overcome that presumption – significant impairment. That is the same standard for obtaining conservatorship of a grandchild.

    “If the grandparent meets that burden of proof it does NOT equate to a finding that the parent is an unfit parent. Again, if a parent is failing to adequately provide for the child’s minimum needs (neglect) or worse is abusive, then conservatorship should be the issue. Instead, meeting the burden of proof merely overcomes the presumption that the parent made the correct decision in this instance.”

    • Tim Lambert says

      Campbell and Paxton are opposing the bill, West supports and everyone else has not give a position yet.

  2. Claryssa says

    I wish I could be at the hearing today. I have great oral testimony about this exact issue. I have been in a battle with my former in-laws since my son was 4…he is now almost 10. It has cost me nearly $40,000 in legal fees, not to mention time, drama and heartache. It is the most abusive use of the system I have ever seen. Unfortunately, they have much deeper pockets than I have…I have no idea how long I will be embroiled in this legal issue, but I am so ready for it to come to an end. I pray every day for God’s protection from them for my whole household. It is really a shame when a grandparent attempts to raise their status to that of a parent and gain control over a child’s life. I pray this comes to an end for all of us who are involved in these battles. Texas needs to stand against this bill and show that it is a state that fights for its parents.

    • Crystal Amber Aldridge says

      I’m so sorry you are going through that! My family will keep your situation in our prayers!!

  3. says

    I just contacted all Senators. I only had to leave two voicemails, all other numbers were immediately answered. Thanks for keeping us aware of what’s going on in our state!

  4. Michael Farnum says

    I called every committee member’s office to voice my opposition to the bill since I can’t make it to Austin for this (will be there tomorrow for other stuff – wish they would delay a day). Overall it was a pleasant experience. I reached live people in every case but one, where I left a voice mail. All the offices but one were very nice and thanked me for my call, and most asked for my name and from where I was calling. No one stated their stance on the bill.

    The one office that was NOT nice asked me where I was from in that senator’s district. When I said I wasn’t from their district but was calling all members of the committee, I was quickly dismissed.

    While I won’t name the office that wasn’t pleasant, I will say that Sen. Sylvia Garcia’s office was very cordial and asked specifically why I opposed the bill. I referred to the clause where no expert testimony would be needed. The lady answering the phone said they were very aware of that clause (she still did not indicate a stance on the bill).

    Thank you so much for standing up for our rights Mr. Lambert and crew. My family and I are very appreciative of your efforts. May God bless you.

  5. Peniey says

    So many calls have come through this morning, and still coming through, that this bill was pulled from today’s hearing! A nice gentleman with Sen. Campbell’s office just told me this. He also stated they were being flooded with calls over it. :D

  6. lisa says

    i am a single mother of two wonderful chirldren and i have a mother who doesnt like the way i parent and my choices on how i live . she has money and i dont and well she took my kids and now i see them on the weekends and i have to see my mother and kids say every day that they want to be with me and it breaks my heart that they cant my own mother just loves to have control and now she has my kids and now me wrapped around fingers i pray that things will change and one day they will come back till then i try to stay positive and be there when i can for my kids