On February 3rd, 2017, Senator Lois Kolkhorst of Senate District 18 filed two essential bills to protect the rights of families in CPS cases.
When CPS files suit against a family, not only must the family navigate the difficult legal field to defend themselves, but they must do so with the law stacked against them. These two CPS reform bills, SB 738 and SB 739, seek to remedy this problem by removing barriers to Texas families.
So how exactly do these bills help?
SB 738 requires all cases regarding the same children and same CPS incident to be heard in the same court.
Specifically, the bill requires that whenever the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS, the organization in charge of CPS) files a petition to terminate the parent-child relationship involving multiple children, they do so in a court of continuing, exclusive jurisdiction.
How does filing in a single court help families?
Allows families to defend innocence one time rather than multiple times
As an example, if CPS removes four children in a family, they can feasibly file each of the four petitions in a different court. That means that the parents are forced to defend their innocence four different times, in four different courts, to four different judges. This bill changes this to keep the family involved in a case in one court.
Consolidates cases to a single court giving the judge a broader understanding
Currently, judges are only given the details of the case as they relate to the one child in the case giving judges a fairly narrow view of the situation. Conversely, having all of the cases heard by the same judge would give the judge the full context of the incident and allow them to make a well-informed decision regarding the family.
Reduces court costs
The legal fees in even a single court case can be exponential. Forcing a family to defend themselves in multiple courts puts undue financial burden on families who may have to hire multiple attorneys to successfully defend themselves in each court.
Protects parents from repeating a burdensome cycle
When parents finally get their children back, if CPS ever files another suit against them, CPS is required by law to file the suit in the courts that have jurisdiction over each child. Without this bill, parents have to repeat the burdens of defending themselves in multiple courts.
SB 739 allows the court to postpone a show cause hearing for up to one week when it is requested by the parent or the parent’s attorney, provided that the requesting party can show that there is a good reason for postponing the hearing.
The current statute requires that the hearing showing cause takes place within 14 days of the child’s removal. The problem is that often times the parent isn’t notified about the hearing until shortly before the hearing occurs. When that happens, there is not adequate time either to prepare a defense or to hire an attorney to prepare a defense.
This results in a significant disadvantage for parents opposing the removal of their children. The purpose of the justice system should be to facilitate justice. That involves allowing parents to defend themselves which can’t be done without giving them the time to do that.
How does this bill protect parents?
Protects all parents, even those without an appointed attorney
The law already affirms the principle that a parent should be allowed time for an adequate defense. The current statute allows a one week postponement in cases with court appointed attorneys for the parent, however SB 739 extends this protection to all parents, not just those who have an attorney appointed to represent them.
Facilitates justice in the best interest of the children
When parents aren’t given time to prepare for a hearing, it lowers the chances of the child returning home, purely due to a weighted legal system, which very often harms the child. It’s in the best interest of both the parent and the child for the parent to be given adequate time to defend themselves.
These are just two of the bills that the THSC Watchmen will be working tirelessly to get passed this legislative session. Please consider donating to the THSC Watchmen to help in Keeping Texas Families Free!