Lawyers vs Families

Last week our board-certified family law attorney consultant and I spent several hours “negotiating” with attorneys and lobbyists representing the Texas Family Law Foundation (TFLF), trying to find some “common ground” between SB 1194 (the Texas Parental Rights Restoration Act [TPRRA]) and SB 1148 (a bill that would expand the number of situations in which grandparents could sue fit parents and that would require no expert testimony in order to prevail).

As a non-attorney, it was a trying and, at some times, agonizing experience for me. Although both sides offered a good-will attempt to find something we could both agree upon, the TFLF would not accept our three major points of 1) restricting a judge’s discretion for temporary orders (since we are dealing with fit parents), 2) requiring a final hearing within 45 days, and 3) raising the standard of evidence from “preponderance” to “clear and convincing.” In turn, we would not accept their two major points of 1) increasing the number of situations in which grandparents could sue fit parents and 2) requiring no expert testimony to prove that denial of access or possession would significantly impair the physical health or emotional well-being of the child—something the current law requires.

In the last meeting with this group, the lobbyist for TFLF became very animated and claimed that we were being unreasonable by not accepting their proposal. He complained that we had been pursuing these changes for six years and that his plan had been for us to accept the “compromise” and to agree that we would not seek further changes in this statute for two legislatives sessions. He also strongly disapproved of our framing of this issue as one that is often between well-off grandparents against low-income families and single parents.

However, I find it interesting that in public hearings in the House and the Senate, proponents of our bill and opponents of their bill included parents and families who have been devastated by such lawsuits, while those giving testimony against TPRRA and for the TFLF bill were lawyers. That pretty much sums up this battle: parents and families against attorneys.

While SB 1194 is languishing in the Senate Jurisprudence Committee as a result of these talks, the House version, HB 2547, will be debated on the House floor on Thursday—or at least it will be on the House Calendar for that day, which is also the last day that a House bill can be voted out of the House.

Please call your state representative and ask him or her to vote for HB 2547 on Thursday. Tell them that a parent’s fundamental, constitutional right to direct the care, control, and upbringing of their children should not be limited to those who have enough money to defend that right against wealthy grandparents in court.