I. Parental Rights Eroded
Children thrive in homes with loving parents. Parents have the God-given right and responsibility to raise and protect their own children. Sadly, current Texas law allows justice to be set aside and for children to be torn from their families unnecessarily.
Right now, various provisions of the Texas family law are being exploited and allow for nonparental adults to sue fit parents for access to or possession of their children. Those enabled to sue include grandparents, ex-step grandparents, estranged family members, and other third parties. In many of these cases, children are being removed from their homes without even an accusation of any problem in their homes or with their parents, removing the parents’ rights to due process.
It was two years before I was permitted to even see my child again–under armed guard at the courthouse. . . . No one ever accused me of neglect or misbehavior or even of being an incompetent parent. No one . . . not a psychologist, not a social worker, not a non-expert witness . . . not even the in-laws who were allowed to sue me to take away my daughter and strip me of my fundamental rights as a parent.
~Jim Loose, Parent
II. Children Being Hurt
Tragically the loopholes in Texas law allowing children to be removed from good, loving, and stable homes in Texas cause unnecessary trauma and pain. On-going and long-term negative effects from these types of removal impact every aspect of the children’s lives:
The children are terrified, worried about their parents, do not understand why this is happening, and very often believe that it is their own fault somehow. This causes a normal stress reaction in the children and engages the “fight” or “flight” mechanism as a protective response. Thus, the “fight” reactors often get diagnosed with aggression, ADHD, explosive anger disorders, and bipolar. The “flight” reactors get diagnosed with depression and somatic disorders.
~ Johana Scott, Executive Director, Parent Guidance Center
III. Loving Families Torn Apart
Separate provisions protect children in actual danger, however children affected by these laws live in homes with loving and diligent, not abusive or neglectful parents. Instead of children being protected, loving families are being torn apart.
Not only have we seen children traumatized and put directly in harm’s way as a result of these laws, but we have seen families that were happy, loving, and safe irreparably damaged, all with the blessing of an ill-conceived law that directly targets the very people it was meant to protect.”
~ Tim Lambert, President, Texas Home School Coalition
Goals of the bill:
- Defend the rights of parents, providing due process by closing loopholes allowing in-laws to file frivolous lawsuits, often vindictively, against loving parents.
- Protect children from “legal kidnappings” which take them from loving homes by establishing hard standards of evidence that must be met before a court can order children to be taken from their parents.
- Help keep families together by stopping indefinite removals of children from their homes by placing restrictions on the use of so-called “temporary orders”— a type of court order that has no actual deadline or end-date.
Family Unity Act
For the purpose of defending parental rights and protecting Texas children and families, Texas Home School Coalition has worked with several attorneys and legislators to draft and file the Family Unity Act.
In current Texas Family Law, nonparental adults are able to sue fit parents for access to or possession of their children. Those allowed to file suits include in-laws, estranged family members and other third parties. In many of these cases, children are removed from their homes for long periods of time despite the parents not being accused of abuse or neglect.
The Family Unity Act is comprised of three bills addressing this serious situation affecting Texas home school families.
(H.B. 1899 – Rep. Sanford / S.B. 816 – Sen. Campbell)
Many parents find themselves in a court battle with a third party over custody of their child or visitation.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court has clearly stated that a parent who adequately cares for their child must be presumed to act in that child’s best interests, many judges will overrule a parent’s decisions for their child—even if the parent is entirely fit.
Essentially, parents often find themselves in a dispute with the local judge arguing not whether the parent has done anything wrong but whether the judge can do something better.
The Best Interest bill will:
- Prohibit courts from issuing final or temporary orders overruling fit parents.
- Apply the Troxel v. Granville Supreme Court definition of a fit parent to Texas law.
- A fit parent is defined as one who “…adequately cares for his or her children.”
(H.B. 1361 – Rep. White / S.B. 1019 – Sen. Creighton)
Currently, in lawsuits that relate to access, possession, or custody of a child, a judge may issue a temporary order placing the child with a non-parent. However, there are no deadlines for temporary orders or case completion.
While CPS cases involving an accusation of abuse or neglect must be completed within one year, cases against fit parents have no deadline. Children can be removed from the home for years, such as the Jim Loose case, even though there is no accusation against the parent.
The Case Deadlines bill will prevent these cases from extending beyond a reasonable amount of time by requiring courts to meet the same deadline as CPS cases.
(H.B. 2890 – Laubenberg / S.B. 815 – Campbell)
Currently, if a parent is sued for access, possession, or custody of their child, the court must respect what is called the “parental presumption.” This means the court must presume that the fit parent should be given primary or full custody of their child.
However, under modification suits, there is no parental presumption.
A modification suit reopens a previously resolved case for the purpose of modifying the judge’s final order. Thus, a parent can lose their protections under the law simply because they were sued a second time.
The Modification Suits bill will:
- Require the court to recognize the “parental presumption” in modification cases just as normal cases.
- Require that in a modification suit as well as a normal suit, the court must presume that a fit parent should be given custody of their child.
Do you support the Family Unity Act passing the legislature and becoming law? Consider donating to the THSC Watchmen as they work tirelessly to pass this legislation. Also, sign up for email notifications to receive updates on our family law reform legislation as we continue Keeping Texas Families Free!
Possession/Access: Access and possession are often used synonymously with visitation. Access more often refers to telephone calls or e-mail communication. Possession applies in situations where a party is given possession of a child over a weekend, or certain hours of particular days. However, because the time limitations on possession are not defined, judges can “temporarily” give “possession” to a third party for an indefinite period.
Custody: Custody is a commonly used term that refers to conservatorship.
Conservatorship: An individual who is granted conservatorship has been granted complete possession of a child, full responsibility for the child, and the right to direct the child’s care, health, education, and upbringing. For an exhaustive list of rights exclusive to conservators, see Family Code Section 153.132.
Fit Parent: A parent is assumed to be fit unless his or her conservatorship of the child is shown not to be in the best interest of the child because it significantly impairs the child’s physical health or emotional development. A parent could be deemed unfit in situations such as abandoning the child without expressing intent to return, or deliberately placing the child in dangerous situations or surroundings. For an exhaustive list of what would constitute an unfit parent, see Family Code Section 161.001.
SAPCR: Stands for “Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship.” This refers to any lawsuit that involves custody of or access to the child, or in some way modifies the parental rights of the child’s parent.