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Texas Supreme Court awards father full custody of daughter in landmark parental rights case

Texas Supreme Court awards father full custody of daughter in landmark parental rights case

Texas father, "Chris," reads to his daughter, "Ann," in a Facebook video posted on April 21, 2020. | Facebook/Texas Home School Coalition

Setting a major precedent for future parental rights cases in Texas, the state Supreme Court on Friday awarded a father full custody of his 5-year-old daughter, reversing a district court's decision to give joint custody to a man who's unrelated to the child.

The Texas Supreme Court “reaffirmed the longstanding constitutional rules that parents are presumed to be fit and that the actions of fit parents are presumed to be in the best interests of their children,” said Texas Home School Coalition, the group that supported the biological father, identified as Chris, who was awarded full custody of his daughter, Ann.

Ann’s mother had died in a car accident two years earlier. Shortly after her death, the man that Ann’s mother had been dating and was briefly engaged to at the time sued Chris for custody of the child.

Chris had been fighting the decision made by a lower court to grant the unrelated man, identified as “J.D.,” custody of Ann over Chris’ objections.

Texas' Supreme Court overturned the lower court's ruling, “and squarely rejected the unrelated man’s argument that the law does not presume that Chris has a right to raise Ann,” the Texas Home School Coalition said.

“My daughter doesn’t know him. She lived with him cumulatively under six months,” the father said in an earlier social media video about his ex-wife’s fiancé. “I thought that as the biological father, I [should] win. We learned quickly, that is not the case.”

National parental rights activists have paid close attention to the case centered around the basic question: Should a fit father be forced to share custody of his daughter with an unrelated man?

Some advocates feared that a ruling against the biological father by the Texas Supreme Court could set a dangerous precedent on the rights of biological parents to object to non-relatives who want visitation rights and custody rights over their children.

In July 2019, Chris had filed an emergency appeal to the Fort Worth Court of Appeals to strike down the lower court’s ruling on grounds that it violated his constitutional rights as a parent. However, his request was denied.

“So the argument being made is that because [the fiancé] cohabitated with the daughter for between five and six months, cumulatively, that he developed a strong enough relationship with her that he should be entitled to custody of her,” Jeremy Newman, the Texas group’s director of public policy, told The Christian Post at the time. “And in the arguments on top of that is that not only is he entitled to custody, but when he makes that request, he doesn’t have to overcome any type of constitutional presumption in favor of the father.”

Since the parents’ separation in 2016, the mother and father had shared 50/50 custody of their child even though the mother had sought a modification to the agreement before her death.

Since her passing, the child had spent most of her time living with her father as he had battled in court to keep full custody.

Initially, after the mother’s death, the maternal grandparents filed for joint custody of their grandchild in July 2018. The mother’s fiancé also filed for joint custody a month later.

The grandparents’ request for joint custody was denied in court because they were unable to prove that the father was an unfit parent. However, the trial court had granted the fiancé joint custody of Ann on May 8, 2019.

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