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Texas Court of Appeals Upholds Termination of Prisoners’ Parental Rights

In January 2016, in separate cases, the Texas Court of Appeals upheld the termination of two prisoners’ parental rights after they used drugs and were incarcerated multiple times while child-removal actions were pending.

Jade, a fictitious name given to a Texas state prisoner, was arrested for manufacturing and transporting cocaine on March 6, 2014. That day, her three minor children were removed from her home by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services because she had possessed or sold drugs in their presence.

Following an adversary hearing, the trial court entered orders for Jade to be assessed for drug or alcohol dependence in Phase I, then follow the assessment’s recommendations, participate in AA/NA or Celebrate Recovery at least 3 hours a week, and complete both an Intensive Outpatient Program and Supportive Outpatient Program before moving on to Phase II. Although she attempted to meet some of those requirements, Jade failed to fully comply with the orders. She also continued to use drugs and was arrested and incarcerated several times for drug use and DWI.

Meanwhile, Jade’s children had been placed with her maternal great uncle who provided a safe and appropriate living environment and expressed interest in adopting them should their mother’s rights be terminated.

A parental rights termination bench trial was held, during which Jade admitted to having used drugs while the child-removal case was pending. However, she asserted that she was currently in a Substance Abuse Felony Punishment facility and taking programs to both help her with her drug addiction and make her a better parent. The court terminated Jade’s parental rights after finding that she had endangered the physical or emotional well-being of her children, failed to comply with court orders and termination was in the best interest of the children. Jade appealed.

The Court of Appeals found the evidence was sufficient to support termination on all three grounds. While incarceration alone is not enough to support termination, repeated criminal activity is relevant and substance use exposes children to the possibility that the parent will be impaired or incarcerated, which supports termination. Therefore, the judgment of the trial court was affirmed. See: In the Interest of M.C., K.G, and K.G., Children, 482 S.W.3d 675 (Tex. App. Texarkana 2016), petition for review denied.

In a separate case decided on January 22, 2016, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services had filed a petition to terminate the rights of parents identified by the pseudonyms Joseph and Katherine, who had a one-year-old named Jasmine. During a termination hearing, evidence showed that Katherine was addicted to drugs and Joseph had been incarcerated for well over a hundred days during Jasmine’s first year. He also admitted to using drugs, with cocaine as his drug of choice, but denied being addicted. He had been jailed for theft, violation of community service, violation of a protective order and four counts of felony assault involving family violence. Two days prior to the hearing, Joseph’s community service was violated and he was sentenced to four years in prison.

In addition to his criminal history, Joseph had not exhibited an interest in parenting; he had denied being Jasmine’s father until it was proven by a paternity test, and had paid only $5.89 of the $889.76 he owed in child support. He was unable to pay more due to a chronic history of unemployment and incarceration. Jasmine had been living with an aunt and cousin since the first month after her birth. She had bonded with them and they had diligently taken her to all of her medical appointments and expressed a desire to adopt her.

The state district court terminated Joseph and Katherine’s parental rights to Jasmine, and Joseph appealed.

The Court of Appeals found that Joseph’s frequent incarceration and substance abuse supported a finding of conduct that endangered Jasmine’s physical or emotional well-being. Further, he should have known about Katherine’s drug addiction; therefore, he had knowingly placed his child with someone who would endanger her physical or emotional well-being. That behavior also supported termination.

The appellate court noted that Joseph exhibited no parenting skills, had not held a steady job in some time and likely could not provide child support in the future. Since Jasmine was happy, healthy and bonding with her aunt and cousin, termination was in her best interests. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court was affirmed. See: In the Interest of J.B., 2016 Tex. App. LEXIS 643 (Tex. App. Texarkana 2016). 


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Related legal cases

In the Interest of M.C., K.G, and K.G., Children

In the Interest of J.B.