He wasn’t opposed to sharing his daughter’s time with other significant people in her life. But did the court have the power to make that decision for him?
That was the question one Texas father took all the way to his state’s supreme court. And by way of an amicus curiae (or “friend of the court”) brief, we were honored to go with him on your behalf.
Because the Parental Rights Foundation is a nonprofit focused primarily on education and policy, we don’t often get to celebrate clear, concrete victories. We have no way of knowing how many people started thinking about parental rights concerns for the first time last week or how many lawmakers have changed their minds since June in favor of families. Though we know we’re changing lives, it’s not something we can easily see.
But that just makes it all the more exciting when there is a clear victory we can share with you. This is one such victory.
“We are beyond excited!” the father told us in a Facebook message, after the Texas Supreme Court ruled to uphold his parental rights. “It’s our 2020 bright spot.”
His case was In re C.J.C., Relator, and it’s one for which we were honored to submit an amicus curiae brief last December. And now we are thrilled to join him in the victory—a victory we could not celebrate without you.
When Abigail’s mother and father split up, they asked the courts to help them sort out custody of their daughter. In the end, they found an amicable arrangement where each parent had custody about half the time. They got along and did what was best for their little girl.
Then mom moved in with Jason (not the father), and the two got engaged. The parents still got along, and Abigail’s custody time was split between her father on the one end and her mom and Jason on the other.
But then tragedy struck, and Abigail’s mother was killed in a car accident.
And that’s where things got complicated in a legal sense—though you and I know that that never should have been the case.
You and I know that unless the court has found a parent to be abusive or criminally negligent—“unfit”—that parent has the right to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their own child.
But that’s not what happened here, or at least not at first.
The Court Would Always Be Involved
With the passing of Abigail’s mother, both Jason and Abigail’s maternal grandparents filed for visitation or partial custody with the little girl.
Interestingly enough, Texas law has two separate provisions for these two situations.
The first part makes sense.
Grandparents or other close relatives who sue for custody are under one statute: Because they are close relatives, all they have to do is show that the parent is unfit or that denying the relative custody would cause significant harm to the child, and the court can grant their petition.
In this case, there was no showing—or even a claim—that the father was unfit, so they “lacked standing,” meaning they didn’t meet the necessary criteria to file a custody suit. They were close relatives, but that’s only half of the to-do list under that law.
Others like Jason, who sue for custody of a child but aren’t close relatives, have to go through a different statute, and one that’s presumably harder to navigate. Because they are not related, they have to start from scratch and show that granting them custody or visitation is in the child’s best interest. That also makes sense.
But that’s just where the original court somehow got it wrong.
See, Jason filed for an order modifying the original custody agreement between the father and Jason’s late fiancée. And somehow, the court thought it would be fine to replace the girl’s biological mother who had known her all her life with an unrelated adult who had spent limited time with her over a few months.
It even got around the bit about having to show that the parent is unfit before the court can take away his right and authority to decide what is best for his own child.
As Jason’s lawyer testified in oral arguments, their position was that once the court was involved in making decisions for the child—in this case, as a result of Abigail’s parents’ custody arrangements from years ago—the court would always be involved.
Fighting for Justice
Then Abigail’s dad said, “Not so fast.” He got a lawyer, found some help from our allies at the Texas Family Policy Foundation (TFP), rounded up some “friends of the court” (including your Parental Rights Foundation), and appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.
Due to the 2020 pandemic and the sudden need for lots of conferences and events to “go virtual,” some of us were able to watch the oral arguments in April. And I’ll be honest; even knowing the law should have been on our side, I wasn’t certain how that was going to go.
So when we got word a couple of weeks ago that the ruling had been issued and that the decision supported the father’s rights over the position of the lower court, we were beyond excited.
As the father said at the start of this newsletter, it was the bright spot of our 2020. And I knew right away we would need to share this victory with you.
Understand, this was never about whether or not Abigail would be allowed to see her grandparents or her mother’s fiancé. We’re happy to share that her dad has indicated he has no intention of keeping either Jason or the grandparents out of his daughter’s life.
They were in her life before, and they will continue to be now.
Rather, the question at play here is if your right as a good parent to direct the upbringing, education, and care of your child – who has known you all their life – can be taken away (in part or in whole) without even a hint that you’ve ever done anything wrong.
The decision of what would happen to Abigail and who would get to spend time with her should have always been in the father’s hands. Now that decision is his to make, not the court’s. And we were honored to be a part of making that happen.
The Parental Rights Foundation only exists to speak into cases like Abigail’s because of partners like you.
And that ability to speak is so important.
The Crucial Support
While the father’s lawyer and TFP filed briefs of their own, they had to cover the issues specific to this one case. Briefs are limited to a certain length, which didn’t leave them room to cover the more general question: just what level of respect should constitutional parental rights receive, anyway?
And that’s the brief that, thanks to you, we were able to provide. It was a critical brief that contributed to the success of this case and kept the power to make decisions for Abigail’s best interest with her father, where it belongs.
Even more, it’s because of you that when someone needed that brief they came to us to write it.
Years ago, we saw the need to protect parental rights and we began to speak out.
You believed in us, supported us, and fueled our voice.
Together you and I have built a reputation and a record that allows the Parental Rights Foundation to speak for innocent families everywhere. Now when someone needs that voice, they come to us to provide it.
And as a result of so many vague, hard-to-pinpoint victories in our past together, we now have a clear, concrete victory to celebrate today: the power to decide what’s best for Abigail is back in her father’s hands, where it belongs.
In light of the difference we’ve been able to make in the life of this one family—and any Texas family that comes after them—is it not time to double down on our efforts and make sure the next time someone needs that voice, the Parental Rights Foundation is there to provide it?
With your help, this will be just the beginning of what we can do together to preserve families.
So can I count on you today for your continued support? Your gift of $20, $50, or even $100 gives voice to innocent families everywhere so parents can keep their children safe.
In the words of Abigail’s father, “I’m grateful for everything you’ve done.” I had the honor of receiving those words from him after our victory in court, but he wasn’t speaking them to me.
He was expressing his gratitude to the entire Parental Rights Foundation family; he was expressing his gratitude to you.
Thank you for standing with us for this father and his little girl, and for the next family who will need our voice to protect them.
P.S. A good father shouldn’t have to worry that his rights will be removed when he has done nothing wrong. And thanks to you, this Texas father doesn’t have to worry anymore. Your support has enabled us to win this landmark victory for parents’ rights, but the fact that this case happened in the first place means our work is far from complete. Hundreds of thousands of families still need their rights protected, and we need your support to keep making that happen. Will you continue to stand with us by giving your best gift today so that this victory is just one of many? Let’s work together to keep children like Abigail with the ones who love them best.