Justices reverse lower court ruling that had granted partial custody to deceased mother’s fiancé
AUSTIN, Texas – The Supreme Court of Texas has unanimously upheld the constitutional rights of fit parents by ruling in favor of the biological father of a 5-year-old girl. The ruling reverses a Denton County trial court judge’s order that had granted partial custody to the fiancé of the child’s deceased mother and directs the lower court to vacate its temporary order.
Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson partner Brad LaMorgese represented the biological father as co-counsel on the case.
“This is an important child custody case for all fit parents and a great win for parents in Texas,” said Brad LaMorgese. “We are grateful the Supreme Court of Texas agreed with our argument and ultimately ruled in our favor.”
The closely watched case has garnered national attention because of the lower court’s ruling that granted partial custody to a non-parent and because of its important constitutional implications for other parents in Texas.
In its ruling, the Texas Supreme Court held that when a fit parent’s rights for access or custody to the child are challenged by a non-parent, the court’s best interest analysis must include the presumption that a fit parent acts in the best interest of the child.
The case began when the child’s mother died in an automobile accident in 2018. The child’s maternal grandparents and the mother’s fiancé of three months sought joint custody with the biological father. But while the grandparents’ case was dismissed, the Denton County judge granted the fiancé rights and partial possession of the child.
Texas law allows a non-relative who has lived in a child’s primary home for at least six months to fight for custody, making the process simpler for a non-parent than grandparents and other relatives. The fiancé in this case had lived with the girl’s mother for close to 11 months, and the child was in the home for a little more than half that period.
Mr. LaMorgese worked with Holly Draper of The Draper Law Firm and lead counsel on the case. Oral arguments took place through Zoom video conferencing April 22 after COVID-19 concerns postponed the original March court date.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Texas Public Policy Foundation participated in oral arguments in support of the biological father’s rights. Overall, nine groups voiced support for the father’s case, including the State of Texas, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Texas Home School Coalition, Alliance Defending Freedom, Parental Rights Foundation, Texas Association of Family Defense Attorneys, Texas Values and A Voice for Choice Advocacy.
The case is IN RE C.J.C. Case No: 19-0694 in the Supreme Court of Texas.