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Texas Supreme Court: Courts can’t second-guess rights of fit parents

State high court unanimously reverses lower court ruling that split custody of child between father and boyfriend of deceased mother

Published On: 6/26/2020

Related Case: In re: C.J.C.

AUSTIN, Texas – In a significant victory for parental rights, the Texas Supreme Court ruled unanimously Friday that courts in the state cannot second-guess the rights of fit parents in child custody decisions. Specifically, the high court ruled that a lower court wrongly awarded partial custody of a child to the boyfriend of the child’s deceased mother over the objections of the child’s father, who had never been deemed an unfit parent.

In its opinion, the state high court wrote that when “a nonparent requests conservatorship or possession of a child, the child’s best interest is embedded with the presumption that it is the fit parent—not a court—who makes the determination whether to allow that request.” In November of last year, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, In re C.J.C., in favor of that result.

“A child’s best interests are not served by ignoring the rights of a fit parent in favor of the demands of someone who is legally a stranger to the child,” said ADF President and CEO Michael Farris. “Any state action significantly limiting those rights must, at a minimum, establish that the child would suffer some type of harm if she were to remain in the care of the parent. But here, the trial court required no such showing of harm. Instead, it held that, multiple times each month, the child’s natural father had to leave his daughter in the home of someone who was unrelated to her and who she had lived with less than a year. This was over the father’s express objections and with no indication that he is unfit to care for her. The Texas Supreme Court was right to affirm the constitutional requirement that a parent’s decision is presumed to be in the child’s best interest.”

The mother of the child passed away in a car accident while in the middle of a modified custody proceeding in court that she began four months after moving in with her boyfriend. After her death, the child began living exclusively with her father, but the boyfriend sought to gain partial custody over the father’s objections. Despite the fact that the father was legally a fit parent and testified that the child had no desire to see the boyfriend, a lower court allowed the boyfriend to intervene in the proceedings and awarded him partial custody of the child.

The Texas Supreme Court vacated the custody ruling and concluded that the girl’s father is “entitled to a presumption that he determines [his daughter’s] best interest based on his fundamental right as a fit parent.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.


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