Termination of Parental Rights and an MSA in Texas

Termination of Parental Rights and an MSA in Texas

Calling all Curious Minds: Unraveling the Mysteries of Texas Family Code 161!

Picture this: A Texas-sized puzzle filled with twists, turns, and complex legal maneuvers. If you鈥檝e ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes in termination of parental rights cases, get ready for an eye-opening journey through the enigmatic realm of Texas Family Code 161.

Buckle up, because we鈥檙e about to explore the ins and outs of terminating parental rights in the Lone Star State! From heart-wrenching real-life examples to the nitty-gritty of courtroom drama, this blog will demystify the process while keeping you hooked till the last word.

Short Answer

Can Texas Family Code 161 Really Terminate Parental Rights?

Absolutely! Texas Family Code 161 holds the key to the termination of parental rights, but it鈥檚 not as simple as a one-size-fits-all solution. Our adventure through this legal labyrinth will reveal the factors considered, the best interests of the child, and the critical role judges play in shaping the child鈥檚 future.

Termination of Parental Rights

We discussed that the prevailing wisdom among many Texas family law attorneys is that generally, termination of parental rights in Texas is not easy unless someone else is interested in stepping up to take on that role.

A while back, a friend and fellow attorney had asked me some questions regarding terminating parental rights on a father. My friend鈥檚 potential client, the father, had a one-night stand that resulted in a pregnancy. The mother was planning on going forward and having the child. The father was not interested in being a father and the mother was not interested in his being the father.

Recently my friend revisited the topic with me as the birth of the child was approaching and the sentiment of both the mother and the father had not changed. In our discussion, the topic was brought up on whether agreeing to relinquish parental rights in a mediated settlement agreement (MSA) would make a difference. For today鈥檚 blog, we will explore the answer to that question.

In re Stephanie Lee

We actively discussed how the Supreme Court of Texas in a recent blog, in the case of In re Stephanie Lee, determined the validity of mediated settlement agreements in divorces. This decision emphasized that judges cannot alter most circumstances-mediated settlement agreements.

The Texas Supreme Court鈥檚 Decision

The Texas Supreme Court was in a position to make a decision on essentially which is more important:

  1. a judge鈥檚 ability to protect what he or she believes is the best interests of the child whom their court has jurisdiction over, or
  2. the widely-held belief that once parties entered into a mediated settlement agreement, no party and the court itself should not be able to interfere with the agreement absent those two conditions outlined earlier in this blog post.

The bottom line for the parties involved in this case was the validation of their mediated settlement agreement. The Trial Court received an order to comply with the parties鈥 decision and endorse the order drafted from that settlement agreement.

In re Stephanie Lee set a precedent that fortified mediated settlement agreements in divorce and child custody decisions.

What about an MSA when it comes to Termination of Parental Rights?

My friend and I discussed the question of, in light of 鈥淚n re Stephanie Lee,鈥 does a judge have the discretion to not approve a termination when agreed to in a MSA?

On its face, the answer would appear to be no, but we would need to do further research. One thing we discussed was that the court my friend鈥檚 case landed in would make a difference. I told him I knew of at least one judge who had granted a divorce based on an MSA and then reopened the case on his own motion.

Texas Family Lawyers Discussion on Facebook

Termination of Parental Rights and an MSA in Texas

My friend posed his question to a Texas Family Lawyers group that we are both members of on Facebook.

Most of the family law attorneys on that group that responded to his discussion rehashed much of what my friend and I had already discussed regarding the prevailing wisdom based on the Texas Family Code and missed the point of the MSA.

However, when I chimed in and clarified my friend鈥檚 question, we got a potentially useful response from a former judge in Harris County. She mentioned that we should take a look at the case 鈥498 S.W.3d 624, 626 (Tex. App. 2016).鈥

In re Morris

In this case, a father asked the court to terminate the rights of the mother. This termination of the mother鈥檚 rights was agreed upon in a mediated settlement agreement.

The 309th District Court, Harris County, refused to render judgment on the mediated settlement agreement (An interesting piece of trivia is that the 309TH is the same court that In re Stephanie Lee originated).

309TH Trial Court鈥檚 Decision

The Court having reviewed the pleadings and the statutory requirements under:

  1. Texas Family Section 153.0071(d), and
  2. Texas Family Code Section 161

found that the statutory requirements for parental termination had not been met by the Mediated Settlement Agreement and denied the entry of the Mediated Settlement Agreement.

The court found that an order based on the Mediated Settlement Agreement would bypass mandatory rules and procedures. It also conflicted with the court鈥檚 duty to follow statutory provisions.

The father filed a petition for a writ of mandamus. He aimed to force the district court to revoke its order, which denied judgment based on the agreement.

The Decision of the Court of Appeals of Texas, Houston (14th District)

The Houston Court of Appeals first addressed parental rights termination based on an MSA. It considered if an MSA stops a court from denying judgment when a plaintiff fails to prove termination benefits the child.

The court concluded that:

  1. a mediated settlement agreement does not preclude the trial court from making a best-interest determination under section 161.001(2) of the Texas Family Code and
  2. that the relator has not shown the trial court clearly abused its discretion.

As such, the Court denied mandamus relief.

Texas Family Code. Section 161.001(1)

This section of the family code provides that a trial court may terminate the parent-child relationship if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that:

  1. the parent has executed 鈥渁n unrevoked or irrevocable affidavit of relinquishment of parental rights and
  2. termination is in the best interest of the child.鈥

In Re A.L.H.,468 S.W.3d 738, 741鈥42 (Tex.App.鈥揌ouston [14th Dist.] 2015

In the case In Re A.L.H, the court:

  1. recognized that an affidavit of relinquishment suffices as evidence on which the trial court may make a finding that termination of the relinquishing parent鈥檚 rights is in the child鈥檚 best interest. But
  2. the court has not held that an affidavit of relinquishment requires the trial court to find that terminating the parent-child relationship would be in the child鈥檚 best interest or that an affidavit of relinquishment by itself proves that fact as a matter of law.

More Evidence is Needed

In the case In re Morris, the court went on to say what additional evidence could have been provided to the trial court to demonstrate that termination was in the best interest of the child:

  1. Additional facts in the Affidavit
  2. Testimony from the father
  3. Testimony that the mother had executed an unrevoked affidavit as provided by Texas Family Code 161
Termination of Parental Rights and an MSA in Texas

In re Stephanie Lee: Texas Family Code 153.0071(e) and

The Court in In re Morris discussed that the supreme court in Lee did not address whether:

  1. section 153.0071(e) applies to a suit to terminate a parent-child relationship brought under Chapter 161 or
  2. whether a mediated settlement agreement in a termination suit relieves the plaintiff of the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that termination would be in the child鈥檚 best interest, as required by section 161.001(2).
  3. No Texas court appears to have answered these questions.

The court went on to further discuss that conservatorship is different from termination.


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  1. Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights in Texas
  2. Relinquishment and Termination of Parental Rights in Texas
  3. Terminating Parental Rights in Texas on the Absent Parent
  4. Voluntarily Relinquishing Your Parental Rights in Texas
  5. What rights does a father have in Texas?
  6. Fathers鈥 Rights: Children Born Out of Wedlock in Texas?
  7. Mom Versus Dad Who Gets the rights? 鈥 Custodial Rights Vs. Non-Custodial Rights in Texas
  8. Husband Not the Father, what do I do in a Texas Divorce?
  9. I am not the biological father but I want to be 鈥 Paternity by Estoppel?
  10. What do I do if I have overpaid child support in Texas?
  11. Parental Rights in Texas Termination: When It Becomes Necessary
  12. Can A Father Sign His Rights Over In Texas?
  13. Adopting an adult in Texas

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Section 161.103 in the Texas Family Code?

Section 161.103 in the Texas Family Code pertains to the appointment of an attorney ad litem in a suit for termination of parental rights. An attorney ad litem is appointed to represent the best interests of the child during the legal proceedings.

What is the family code 161.002 B 2?

Family Code 161.002 (B)(2) provides one of the grounds for terminating parental rights when a parent has voluntarily left the child alone or in the possession of another without expressing an intent to return and without providing adequate support for the child.

What are parents鈥 rights in Texas Family Code?

The Texas Family Code recognizes parents鈥 fundamental rights to the care, custody, and control of their children. However, these rights are not absolute and can be limited or terminated by the court if it is in the best interests of the child.

What are grounds for terminating parental rights in Texas?

Texas Family Code provides several grounds for terminating parental rights, including abandonment, endangerment of the child, failure to support, and parental conviction of certain crimes. The court carefully evaluates each case to determine if termination is in the child鈥檚 best interests.

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