State Supreme Court rulings sometimes create unintended loopholes in the law, and regardless of how unlikely it seems for anyone to take advantage of them, it seems inevitable. One Texas dad, we’ll call him CJC, learned this the hard way when his ex-wife died, and her live-in boyfriend of 10 months filed for custody – and won overnight visitation with – the dad’s 4-year-old daughter.
It All Started With a Denial of Grandparent Rights
In 2018, a grandmother who cared for her grandchild nearly 100 percent of the time filed for guardianship of the grandchild she was raising. The biological father saw the girl sporadically but fought the grandmother’s request on the grounds that she was not the girl’s exclusive guardian.
The case went to the Texas Supreme Court where it was decided in In the Interest of H.S. that a non-parent doesn’t need to be a child’s exclusive parent-figure in order to petition the court on custody matters. On June 15, 2018, the court found that in order to have legal standing under Texas Family Code § 102.003, the court required the non-parent to provide regular – not exclusive – care of the child, as a parent would, for at least six months leading up to filing the petition.
Coincidentally, problems started for CJC when his ex-wife’s parents petitioned for conservatorship of his child.
According to court records, CJC shared close-to-joint physical custody with his ex-wife. When she died in July 2018, her parents immediately filed for custody of the couple’s daughter, CC. Texas State District Judge Sherry Shipman denied the motion, as the grandparents didn’t have any legal standing to file the case.
Even if they had, there are no complaints about the father in this case. He got along well enough with his ex. Mom had sought to modify their custody agreement, but it wasn’t based on abuse or neglect. The child didn’t complain of abuse. The grandparents didn’t either. They simply wanted a bigger role in their granddaughter’s life than the law allowed.
In August, the family was back in court again as the mom’s boyfriend, referred to as JD, filed a petition for conservatorship under the news guidelines established in June. As a live-in boyfriend, he could claim he was a care provider and have the standing to petition the courts.
The judge granted the motion, essentially transferring the mom’s rights and responsibilities to JD, along with granting him parenting time every other weekend. Curiously, the order also said the girl’s grandparents would be present during that time and be in control of JD’s involvement at the girl’s school.
It was clear Shipman was facilitating backdoor access for the grandparents who legally weren’t entitled to secure it for themselves.
Don’t Mess With Texas Dads
Fortunately, CJC had the financial means to fight this ludicrous scheme. In May 2019, he reported his legal fees had topped $170,000. This paid off in October 2019 when the Texas Supreme Court issued a stay order, effectively putting a hold on the district court’s decision. In the months preceding, CJC had complained to the court about his daughter regressing after the visits and JD interfering with extracurriculars and previously agreed-upon vacation plans.
Since then, the case has garnered the attention of various parents’ rights organizations who’ve joined in the fight including:
Alliance Defending Freedom
Parental Rights Foundation
Texas Public Policy Foundation
Texas Home School Coalition
A Voice for Choice Advocacy
and the Texas State Attorney General
all of which petitioned for – and were granted – time to address the court on March 25.
What Does This Mean for Dads Without Money?
Most of us couldn’t wage a last-minute campaign in court to keep our kids out of the hands of people they barely know or grandparents who want to throw their weight around. One possibility is to seek out support through advocacy organizations.
These groups are invested in the outcome of this case, and it’s not because they feel bad for dad or for his child. It’s because of the precedent that will be determined by the outcome. There’s no guarantee you’ll find the same level of support as CJC, but you might gain access to valuable resources.