Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Case Law Development: A "Better Family" is Insufficient Justification for Termination of Parental Rights

The Texas Court of Appeals reversed a termination of a mother’s parental rights for insufficient evidence that the termination would be in the child’s best interests.  The court reviewed the testimony of the CASA volunteer’s observations and criticisms of mother’s parenting, making this a great case to turn into a class discussion problem given the extensive summaries of the testimony and the clear framing of the issue regarding what is minimally acceptable parenting.   

The case involved a mother and father whose two young children were removed from the home after a domestic violence incident in which each parent claimed the other was the aggressor.  There was also an admission by mother that she had smoked marijuana in front of the children.  The court concluded that, while these offending behaviors could form a basis for termination, they were not “egregious enough to warrant a finding that termination is in the children's best interest.”   

While there is evidence in the record of Mother's poor parenting skills, poor decision making, and inadequate protection of the children in the past, the evidence is uncontradicted that Mother has done everything that CPS has required of her and more. There is evidence CPS's goal initially was to reunite the family. After Mother and Father divorced, the goal became placing the toddler with Mother and the infant with Father. No significant event occurred between the time CPS planned to return the children to appellant and the time CPS sought termination of Mother's parental rights other than her divorce from Father and Mother's move out of her brother's house and into a sparsely-furnished two-bedroom apartment CPS deemed "unsuitable." The best interest standard does not permit termination merely because a child might be better off living elsewhere.  Termination should not be used to merely reallocate children to better and more prosperous parents.  The evidence shows Mother has made significant progress, improvements, and changes in her life. The evidence also shows Mother has attended 100 percent of her visits with her children, and she obviously cares for her children.

In the Interest of C.E.K., 2006 Tex. App. LEXIS 9838 (November 14, 2006)
Opinion on the web (last visited November 15, 2006 bgf)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/family_law/2006/11/case_law_develo_5.html

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