Every legislative session, a bill is filed to make it easier for estranged in-laws to obtain access to and possession of a parent’s children over the parent’s objections. The sentiment promoted to justify this bill is that certain non-parents who feel like they have a relationship with a child should be able to obtain court-ordered possession of that child, the parent’s opinion notwithstanding.

This idea quickly turns horrendous when estranged in-laws disagree with basic, legitimate parenting decisions made by a parent and resort to the courts to force their opinion on the parent.

The current law applies only to single parents, allowing the in-laws of that single parent to sue the family for possession of the child. Under the current law, families in Texas have already been torn apart and have lost their children for years without even an accusation of abuse or neglect.

Often, these parents lack the financial resources to defend themselves against this extended and costly litigation, making them especially vulnerable. The family survives the litigation as long as they can and has to hope they can outlast the opposition.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Chassidie Russell lost her daughter for 3 years without any allegation of abuse or neglect.
  • Heather Wyatt’s daughter was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend. After he was incarcerated, Heather’s in-laws filed suit for possession and access, dragging Heather and her children through court for years.

In fact, the abuse of the current law has been so consistent that, four times since 2006, the Texas Supreme Court has taken the extraordinary step of intervening in an ongoing case to protect a family who was being severely abused under this statute.

Under HB 575 No Accusation of Abuse and Neglect is Needed to Remove Children from Parents

Now, House Bill 575 seeks to expand the current statute, allowing any family to be sued, not just single parents. Furthermore, the bill prevents a judge from requiring expert testimony when in-laws try to meet the burden of proof and obtain possession of the child.

In summary, the bill expands exponentially the pool of families who can be sued under this law to include virtually every family in the state. It then lowers the legal standards required for in-laws to obtain access to or possession of that family’s children.

House Bill 575 is being pushed by the Texas Family Law Foundation. It is identical to a previous bill pushed by the Foundation and defeated every legislative session by homeschool families for years now. In fact, in 2013, THSC issued a call to action against the bill which generated so many phone calls that the entire committee was essentially shut down for several days. The bill was pulled from the docket.

At THSC, we believe that the fundamental right of parents to raise their children should not depend on how much money you have to defend yourself in court. Furthermore, a court should be allowed to require expert testimony when considering the extraordinary action of forcing a parent to give possession of their child to someone else.

HB 575 would expand the significant abuses already taking place under Texas law, extending them to potentially ensnare any family in Texas.

The THSC Policy Team and the THSC Watchmen are fighting to keep this bill from passing and we will continue Keeping Texas Families Free. Stay tuned for updates and possible calls to action to help stop this bill.

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Texas State Historical Association