Grandparents’ Visitation Rights in Texas

Bill McNamara presented the following paper on April 22, 2009, before the South Plains Family Law Association.

“So & So Won’t Let Me See My Grandchild”

“Can You Help Me?”

I.          Introduction

Under limited circumstances, there are ways we can still help Grandparents. This paper is an attempt to explain how we can still represent Grandparents in access cases in light of Troxel. If you are representing the parent, Troxel is still your sword.

This article is divided by questions you should ask and the facts Grandma gives you.

II.        Grandma Calls and wants Access

Can you help? Answer: Maybe, Let me hear more!

A.     First, and foremost: Determine if Grandma meets the “old” requirements. What I mean by this is whether one of the requirements under subparagraph (3) can be met:

  • the Grandparent’s child has been in Jail for at least the past 3 months
  • the Grandparent’s child has been found incompetent
  • the Grandparent’s child has died
  • the Grandparent’s child does not have court ordered access

Then you want to make sure that both parents have not had their rights terminated! See §153.434(1)(B). If both parents’ rights have been terminated, your Grandma is probably out of luck.

However, if both parents have had their rights terminated by CPS and Grandma has NOT been given access then you need to look at §102.003(a)(12) and §102.004! In a CPS case only, you have 90 days after the termination to still try and get Grandma in the door.

B.     Second, ask Grandma questions about whether the parent is a fit parent or not. And ask Grandma questions to see if she would have standing under §102.003.

 Sounds like a “Fit” parent and you don’t have any facts that could give you Standing under §102.003:

Result:     Grandma still falls under §153.433 and she has to overcome the biggest hurdle.

Burden:   Can you prove by a preponderance of the evidence that denial of possession of or access to the child (by Grandma) would significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional well being?

Law:         You better have an expert! In July of 2008 the Ft. Worth court of appeals stated, “The mere opinion of the grandparents themselves and an interested, nonexpert witness that the grandparents should be granted access does not overcome the statutory presumption.” In re J.P.C., 261 S.W.3d 334, 340 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2008, no pet.).

Facts:       The grandchild probably hasn’t seen an expert before Grandma calls. If Grandma has had close, loving, and/or a significant relationship with her grandkids, then I say file the access suit!

My Spin:  Petition the court for temporary orders and ask the Court to appoint an expert to address the issue, but DON’T ask for “Temporary Access.” Also, you may want to ask the Court to confer with the child.

None of the cases that I have included have addressed the issue whether the appointment of an expert in a Grandparent access case offends the rationale in Troxel. You could rely on Derzapf where the trial court appointed an expert during temporary orders to advise the court whether the grandparents should have access. In re Derzapf, 219 S.W.3d 327, 328 (Tex. 2007). However, in Derzapf the Supreme Court of Texas held that only biological or adoptive grandparents, not step-grandparents, had standing to seek access.

Note:         If you represent the parents you should argue that appointing an expert and subjecting your client and the kids to counseling offends Troxel.

C.     Now assume these are the facts:

 Parent is a fit parent, but Grandma HAS standing under §102.003.

PLEAD FOR JMC & ACCESS

Now you need to find out if there is a prior court order. If so, file a modification and argue that the parental presumption and Troxel does not apply! See In the Interest of M.P.B., 257 S.W.3d 804 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2008, no pet.); In Re C.A.M.M., 243 S.W.3d 211 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2007, pet. denied). If you are representing the parent, however, rely on In re Kelso, 266 S.W.3d 586 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2008, no pet.).

If Grandma has standing under §102.003 she can file an original suit or a modification. If you are filing an original suit, then the parental presumption applies but you could still argue that Grandma has standing to be named a joint managing conservator. If Grandma has a “legitimate” threat of being named a JMC, then Grandma has more leverage to negotiate an access settlement.

Grandma would most likely have standing if the grandchild lived in her house for at least six months ending not more than 90 days preceding your filing. The six months doesn’t have to be continuous and uninterrupted. It just has to be the child’s principal residence.

D.     Now assume the Parent is Unfit:

 The child’s present circumstances would significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional development

Your Grandma has standing under §102.004 to ask for custody, and in the alternative Grandma can plead for access. Again, this may lead the parties to negotiate a settlement regarding access.

III.       Ancillary Issues

A.     I was Home Towned!

I won’t name names, but I was in a county other than Lubbock, and I was representing the mother in a Grandparent access case.

At the first hearing I successfully argued that Grandma didn’t have standing under the statue. Then the father, who was in a court ordered rehab facility, filed an enforcement against my client (with the same attorney). He couldn’t leave the facility and couldn’t visit his child at the facility.

I thought no problem, right? Wrong. The judge ordered that the father could designate anyone he wanted to exercise his periods of possession, i.e. Grandma. I wasn’t prepared for this kind of judicial discretion.

If this happens to you, I think you should rely on In re Marriage of Campbell, 06-08-00088-CV, 2009 WL 483602 (Tex. App.—Texarkana Feb. 27, 2009, no pet.).

B.     Can You Get out of a Pre-Troxel Grandparent Access Order?

Maybe – See In re C.P.J. The Texarkana court of appeals seems to say you may be able to get out of the agreement in light of Troxel.

No – See In re C.P.J., 129 S.W.3d 573 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2003, pet. denied). The Dallas court of appeals says you can’t get out of it even after Troxel.

No – See Spencer v. Vaughn, 03-05-00077-CV, 2008 WL 615443 (Tex. App.—Austin Mar. 6, 2008, pet. denied). The Austin court of appeals affirmed jury decision to modify grandparent access.

C.     Specific Days & Times

Lastly, an Amarillo case says if Grandma does get access, then the trial court should give Grandma specific times and days in which to exercise her access. See In re Webster, 982 S.W.2d 526 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 1998, no pet.). Note: This opinion was issued before Troxel.

D.     Step Parent Adoption doesn’t keep Grandma out

See Raines v. Sugg, 930 S.W.2d 912 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 1996, no writ).

IV.       Still Can’t Get There?

Sibling Access                                  §153.551

Sibling has to be at least 18               §102.0045

Military Deployment                          §153.3161

Why do Grandparents with children in the military get more rights than other Grandparents?  Equal protection argument?

V.        Defending the Parent?

Rely on the following cases to defend your client’s constitutional rights!

In re Derzapf, 219 S.W.3d 327 (Tex. 2007)

In re Mays-Hooper, 189 S.W.3d 777 (Tex. 2006)

In re Chambless, 257 S.W.3d 698 (Tex. 2008)

In re J.P.C., 261 S.W.3d 334 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2008, no pet.)

In re D.R.D., 05-06-00666-CV, 2007 WL 2258455 (Tex. App.—Dallas Aug. 8, 2007, no pet.)

In re J.R.D., 05-06-01554-CV, 2007 WL 4415879 (Tex. App.—Dallas Dec. 19, 2007, no pet.)

In re Aubin, 29 S.W.3d 199 (Tex. App.—Beaumont 2000, no pet.)

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