Over the last 100 years, the United States Supreme Court has consistently held that parents have the constitutional right to raise their own children. The Court has specified high standards that must be met before the government may interfere with that right.
However, one standard commonly used in Texas law—the “best interest of the child”—is so ambiguous that its meaning entirely depends on which judge is using it.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, parents determine what is in the best interest of their children, not the state. But a bill filed in the Texas legislature, House Bill (HB) 3121, would drastically broaden the already vague “best interest of the child” standard used by Texas judges. This bill alters the criteria that judges must consider when dealing with a case involving the parent-child relationship. Although well-intentioned as most bills are, it ignores constitutional rules that protect families from arbitrary state interference.
HB 3121 creates a new “primary consideration” of the state when dealing with the parent-child relationship. It amends Section 153.002 of the Texas Family Code to grant the court sweeping powers. On the basis of ambiguous factors such as whether the home is “healthy” and “stable,” the court may overrule a parent in determining a child’s best interests.
And if a parent has ever perpetrated “emotional abuse” on anyone, they will not have the right to be the child’s managing conservator or even the right to access their own child. To be clear, “emotional abuse” is a very broad term defined as “controlling and coercive tactics designed to pressure a person to do what the actor wants based on fear of consequences.” If you have ever argued with someone and they felt pressured, you could lose the basic right to be left alone with your own child.
This bill sets an extremely low bar for any outside party seeking to separate an entirely fit parent from their child. Such a trampling of family rights is contrary to constitutional principles and Texas families won’t tolerate it.
In short, THSC opposes HB 3121. Although we all want to protect children and keep families intact, this bill takes the wrong approach. It would create more inconsistency and confusion in family law and would destroy many Texas families despite its good intentions.
Even though this bill is unlikely to advance in the legislative process, THSC will be on the front lines to keep you informed and to make sure that HB 3121 rests peacefully in its grave.
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