When the custodial parent of a child dies, in the state of Texas, not only is the child and family union devastated, but now is presented the difficult issue of who will become the child’s guardian. Who are the possible candidates that may be legal guardians?
- Non- Custodial parent, if paternity is acknowledged
- Other relatives
- Godparents, Family friends, Neighbors
- State Foster System
Usually, the surviving non-custodial parent will have an automatic right to custody of the child. Texas law favors a child having a solid relationship with both parents and in the event of death, the living parent will take over permanent exclusive custody of the child. What factors should be considered in the child’s best interest that could determine custody by the surviving parent if he/she is not appropriate for the child?
- Did the court, after the divorce, terminate your parental rights in a legal proceeding? If the non- custodial parent had legally been terminated of his/her parental rights this is binding and the terminated parent WOULD NOT be granted permanent custody of the child.
- What if the custodial parent remarried and the new stepparent legally adopted the child? If the child was legally adopted by the stepparent and the non-custodial parent had waived their parental rights, the stepparent would be granted permanent custody of the child.
- What if the non-custodial parent has acknowledged parentage, but paternity has not been established? To be entitled to custody of the child, the father would first claim parental rights through paternity testing to determine if he is the biological father of the child or if he has signed the child’s birth certificate. After Paternity is established, a separate legal proceeding may need to be initiated to override the terms of the mother’s will.
- What if the Custodial Parent created a will that stated the grandparents/godparents would take over as the legal Guardians of the child in the event of death? Many parents will request a particular person or group, such as grandparents, relatives, or godparents to become guardians for their minor children in the case of their demise, but a child is not a piece of property to give away to others when the other biological parent is living. The judge will view what is in the best interest of the child and will always first look at the surviving parent. If this parent meets basic standards the child will live with this parent. If the surviving parent cannot serve the child’s best interest, then the judge will consider the guardian designated in the deceased parent will.
Nacol Law Firm P.C.
The statutory rights of grandparents in response to a child in the State of Texas, absent existing executions, are minimal. The Texas Courts observe the rights of the parents to prohibit visitation and communication of these children from their grandparents if the parents wish. There are however limited circumstances when grandparents of a child may petition the Court to receive an order that forces the child’s parents to let the grandparents see the children on a regular basis. Texas Courts honor the rights of the parents and must presume that a fit parent makes such decisions, as to who the child may or may not see, those decisions are in the best interest of the child.
In order for a grandparent to interfere with a parent’s right to prohibit the grandparents from seeing the child, the grandparent must prove three elements under 153.433 of the Texas Family Code:
a) The Court may order reasonable possession of or access to a grandchild by a grandparent if:
- At the time the relief is requested, at least one biological or adoptive parent of the child has not had the parent’s parental rights terminated;
- The grandparent requesting possession of or access to the child overcomes the presumption that a parent acts in the best interest of the parent’s child by proving by a preponderance of the evidence that denial of possession of or access to the child would significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional well-being; and
- The grandparents requesting possession of or access to the child are a parents of a parent of the child and that parent of the child:
A) Has been incarcerated in jail or prison during the three-month period preceding the filing of the petition;
B) Has been found by a court to be incompetent
C) Is dead; or
D) Does not have actual or court-ordered possession of or access to the child.
This Statute is limited in application because the Texas legislature gives deference to the parents’ fundamental authority to determine who their child may and may not see.
An example will help clarify this Statute. If a grandparent’s son died in car accident and the grandparent had been helping their son and daughter in-law raise the children, then the grandparents could request visitation rights. The daughter in-law would have to be alive and not have her parental rights terminated. The grandparents would have to prove to the Court by a preponderance of the evidence (more probable than not) that the denial of visitation would significantly impair the children’s’ physical health or emotional well-being. If the grandparents were helping raise the children the grandparents would request some type of visitation for the well-being of the children. These fact situations must be significant because Texas Courts and statutes make it difficult for grandparents to receive any type of visitation or possession if it is not in line with the parents’ wishes.
If you are a grandparent or a mother/father of a child in which the grandparents are attempting to sue you for some type of visitation, it is important to contact a qualified attorney to be informed of your options.