Today the Texas Supreme Court issued its opinion in the landmark child custody case In re C.J.C. Holly Draper served as lead counsel for the father, with Brad LaMorgese of Orsinger, Nelson, Downing and Anderson serving as co-counsel. The case began back in 2018 when the child’s mother was tragically killed in a car accident. The child was three at the time. Both the maternal grandparents and the mother’s fiance sued for joint custody with the father. The Court of Appeals ruled the grandparents did not have a right to sue for custody because they could not prove the father was unfit, and the grandparents were dismissed from the suit. Texas law did not include a similar requirement that the fiance prove the father was unfit, so he was allowed to remain in the case. A Denton County judge then gave the fiance rights and possession time with the little girl over the father’s objections. We sought relief from the Texas Supreme Court, arguing that the trial judge violated the fit father’s constitutional rights when she gave rights and possession to a non-parent.
The case has garnered national attention, with nine different organizations filing amicus briefs into the case in support of our position. The State of Texas and the Texas Public Policy Foundation participated with Holly Draper in oral arguments in support of the father. Oral arguments were held via zoom on April 22 after COVID-19 delayed the original argument date.
The Court’s ruling today is a huge victory for parents in Texas. Eight justices joined the majority opinion, with Justice Lehrmann issuing a concurring opinion. The majority opinion found this case to be very similar to the landmark United States Supreme Case of Troxel v. Granville and rejected the opposing party’s position that the fit parent presumption should not apply because this case involved a modification. The Court held that “we read any best-interest determination in which the court weighs a fit parent’s rights against a claim to conservatorship or access by a nonparent to include a presumption that a fit parent acts in his or her child’s best interests.” The Court also clearly found the father to be fit in this case. You can read the entire opinion here.