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Texas Supreme Court review non-relative custody rights

Changing family relationships adds more complications to seeking custody after a divorce or the end of a relationship. In April, the state Supreme Court heard arguments on a child custody dispute between a 5-year-old’s father and her deceased mother’s fiancé. This case may change the legal presumption that a biological parent has greater custody rights in Texas.

Two years ago, the girl’s mother was killed in a car accident. Before that, the fiancé was living with the mother and taking care of the girl on-and-off during possession times for six months.

After the fatal accident, the fiancé filed a petition to be named as joint conservator. Since the accident, the girl lived with her biological father. No one has questioned the biological parent’s fitness as a parent.

A Texas appellate court allowed the fiancé’s case to proceed. It cited a 2018 state Supreme Court decision that state law recognized specific nonparents who acted in a parent-type role for an extended time. These nonparents may seek to legally preserve that relationship over a parent’s objections.

After that ruling, the trial court granted the fiancé’s joint managing conservatorship request. A state appellate court denied objections and the case is now before the state Supreme Court.

Texas’ family law was amended after a US Supreme Court 2000 decision. That court ruled that biological parents have a constitutional right to make decisions over the care, custody and control of their children. The Court struck down a Washington law allowing non-parents to seek visitation rights over their objections.

Now, there is a legal presumption that parents should have custody over their children. The child’s best interest also overrides all other interests, under Texas law.

Attorneys for the fiancé argue that parental presumption does not apply because this a modification of the original custody arrangement. Lawyers for the biological father claim that the best interest of the child is met if custody is awarded to the biological father who is a fit parent. Others argued that a non-parent can obtain the actual care, control and possession to seek custody only if the child’s parents gives up that control.

Regardless of the state Supreme Court ruling, the state legislature may amend the law because of the interest and participation of many organizations in this case. Anyone dealing with non-parent custody should seek legal representation in this evolving matter.

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