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:
- This bill goes too far in allowing non-parents to sue fit parents.
- 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.”
- This measure will directly impact the low-income parents who are not able to bear the financial burden to protect their parental rights.
- Parental rights are for all parents, not just those who have financial means.
Sen. Royce West – 512-463-0123
Sen. José R. Rodríguez – 512-463-0129