Next week, the Supreme Court of Texas will hear the case of a father seeking to vindicate his fundamental rights from being forced to share custody of his daughter with her mother’s former boyfriend.
This case, known as In Re C.J.C., has profound implications for all Texas families. It centers on a provision of Texas custody law that could grant non-relatives—and even virtual strangers—the right to obtain visitation and custody over the objections of parents.
Chris is a father who has spent the last two years fighting in court to maintain custody of his 5-year-old daughter over the claims of the child’s grandparents and a non-relative. Before July 2018, he shared close to 50/50 custody of his daughter with her mother.
In January 2018, the mother filed a suit to modify the arrangement, but she was tragically killed in a car accident before the court was able to rule.
The girl’s maternal grandparents then stepped in seeking joint custody. Shortly thereafter, the deceased mother’s boyfriend J.D., a virtual stranger who had minimal interaction with the child during the brief period he lived with her mother, also filed a suit seeking joint custody.
While the Court of Appeals correctly rejected the grandparents’ custody suit, it upheld the trial court’s ruling granting J.D. joint custody of the girl—including a brazen provision that allowed J.D. to give grandparents full, unsupervised access to the child.
This decision violated Chris’s constitutional rights as a fit parent to direct the care and upbringing of his daughter. It also amounted to an end-run around both well-established U.S. Supreme Court precedent and the state appellate court’s ruling denying the grandparents’ petition for custody and access.
Both Texas law and the U.S. Constitution presume that parents are fit and naturally act in the best interests of their children. Accordingly, government and the courts are prohibited from substituting their own judgment for that of a fit parent—even in situations in which they believe a better decision could have been made.
It is undisputed in this case that Chris is a fit parent with full rights to make decisions he believes are best for his daughter and family.
Even if the lower court believed that he should have made different arrangements for his daughter to spend time with her grandparents — or even her mother’s boyfriend — overruling Chris’s judgment about what is in his daughter’s best interests represents an unconstitutional violation of his rights as a father and his daughter’s right to a stable relationship with her dad.
The lower court’s ruling that a virtual stranger to a child somehow has superior rights than the child’s parent is not only absurd, it’s unconstitutional.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation became involved with this case in August 2019, submitting an amicus brief urging the Texas Supreme Court to take up Chris’s case. As the state’s premier organization devoted to defending the liberty of all Texans, the foundation recognized that this case has important implications for Texas families.
If the lower court’s decision is allowed to stand, it would dramatically expand the ability of courts to meddle in the private lives of families and put thousands of families at risk of being forced to share custody of their children with non-relatives and even virtual strangers. A ruling in favor of Chris, however, would strengthen protections for the inalienable right of families to be free from having their private lives micromanaged by the state.
Throughout its history, Texas has distinguished itself among states as a staunch defender of individual liberty and personal responsibility. The Supreme Court of Texas now has an opportunity to build on that reputation by extending nearly a century of legal precedent protecting one of society’s most important relationships, that between a parent and child, as a sacred bond with which neither the state nor a live-in paramour may interfere.