*This post has been updated to make it clear that even though affiliation with the Texas Bar is mandatory for attorneys in Texas, affiliation with individual sections of the bar, such as the Family Law Section, is voluntary.
The Texas Supreme Court is currently considering a case that could upend a century of constitutional protections for families. While this might seem like an opportune time for family law experts to jump to the defense of Texas families, the Family Law Section of the Texas State Bar apparently sees things differently.
THSC has launched a campaign called LetHerStay.com to help defend five-year-old Ann and her father, Chris. They are currently battling in the Texas Supreme Court against an unrelated man who was granted custody of Ann by a local court in Denton County.
This man was engaged to Ann’s mother shortly before her mother’s death in a tragic car accident, but the man has spent less than six months with Ann and is completely unrelated to her. Even so, he argues that he should be able to take custody of Ann from Chris, her biological father who Ann lives with regularly.
The man has not accused Chris of being a bad parent. On the contrary, all parties in the case acknowledge that Chris is a fit parent who raises Ann well. Nevertheless, this unrelated man is arguing that he has an equal right to custody of Ann.
A litany of organizations and entities have intervened in the case as third parties to defend Chris and Ann. To date, briefs defending Chris and Ann have been submitted or co-signed by 9 statewide and national pro-family organizations, the Texas Attorney General, and 14 Texas state legislators.
The Family Law Section of the Texas State Bar is the only entity to intervene in the case by opposing Chris and Ann.
As it so happens, Texas law requires attorneys to be paying members of the Texas State Bar before they can practice law in Texas. Attorneys forced to pay dues to the State Bar do not have control over positions that it takes on important legal questions, even if those positions are contrary to the attorney’s personal or religious beliefs. In fact, the Texas State Bar is currently being sued for its use of mandatory dues to pay for advocacy that its members oppose.
Although an attorney in Texas must pay dues to the Texas Bar, the attorney’s affiliation and payments to an individual section of the bar, such as the Family Law Section, are voluntary. The Family Law Section of the State Bar appeared to rely on this distinction and attempted to distance itself from criticism by stating in its brief that its position should “not be construed” to represent the opinions of dues-paying members of the State Bar or the Bar’s Board of Directors.
Even so, it quickly became evident that some of those dues-paying members were not pleased with the Family Law Section’s brief. Shortly after the Family Law Section filed its brief, the Texas Association of Family Defense Attorneys filed a brief in response, calling the arguments made by the Family Law Section “absurd.”
The Family Law Section argued in its brief that a century of constitutional protections normally invoked to protect parents and children should not be applicable to Chris and Ann. The brief argued that the fiance who is attempting to take custody of Ann should be allowed to come before the court on equal footing with Chris, Ann’s actual father, and that Chris should not have any greater right to raise Ann.
If the Texas Supreme Court agrees with the fiance’s argument, it could spell disaster for Texas families. In response, the Texas Association of Family Defense Attorneys intervened in the case and filed a brief urging the court to protect Chris and Ann’s constitutional rights.
The brief was filed by the association’s president, family law attorney and former homeschool mom Julia Hatcher.
This case has the potential to become the most significant family rights case in Texas history. THSC has filed a brief defending Chris and Ann and we are currently working to spread awareness of the case, as well as recruit additional organizations to intervene.