In the Interest of H.S., 550 S.W.3d 151 (Tex. 2018). Grandparent Standing in Texas. Texas Supreme Court resolved split in Texas Courts of Appeals holdings regarding the issue of “actual care, control, and possession of a child.”
Facts: Mom and Dad were the unmarried parents of their child, Heather, who was born in 2013. Heather and Mom resided with Mom’s parents, the maternal grandparents. In August of 2013, Mom and Dad entered a SAPCR order giving Mom the exclusive right to designate Heather’s residence. Mom and Heather continued to live with the Maternal grandparents.
However, in March of 2014, Mom entered a sober-living facility to seek treatment for on-going battle with alcoholism. The child remained with the maternal grandparents. In October of 2014, the child’s maternal grandparents filed a Motion to Modify the underlying SAPCR, asserting that they had had actual care, control, and possession of Heather for at least six months and, therefore, had standing to modify the underlying order. They requested to be appointed as the conservators with the exclusive right to designate Heather’s residence.
Dad filed a Plea to the Jurisdiction, asserting that Mom had continued to be involved in Heather’s life in all the ways that a parent normally would. The trial court agreed and granted Dad’s motion, dismissing the case.
Maternal grandparents appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that “standing…cannot be gained by a nonparent exercising care, control, and possession over a child in the absence of evidence that the child’s parent is unfit or has abdicated his or her own care, control, and possession over the child to the nonparent for the statutory period.”
Subsequently, Maternal grandparents appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, arguing that the Court of Appeals’ holding added extra requirements to the statute. They asserted that “actual authority” does not equate to legal authority, but means only that the nonparent assumes the day-to-day duties of a parent. Nothing in the plain language of the statute requires that the nonparent’s care and control be permanent nor exclusive. Argument was made that the grandparents shared a principal residence with the child, provided for her physical and psychological needs, and provided guidance, governance, and direction to the child.
Ruling: On June 10, 2018, the Texas Supreme Court reversed and remanded the Appellate Court’s decision and held (a) that the grandparents had standing under TFC 102.003(a)(9) because they exercised “actual care, control, and possession” of the child for the six-month statutory time period; (b) The child’s principal residence for two years was the grandparents’ home, they were her primary caregivers, and took her to her doctor’s appointments; (c) Standing under TFC 102.003(a)(9) does not require the nonparent to have ultimate legal authority to control the child, nor does it require the parents to have wholly ceded or relinquished their own parental rights and responsibilities; and (d) TFC 102.003(a)(9) limits nonparent standing to persons who have played an unusual and significant parent-like role in a child’s life.
Note: This case will likely open up the floodgates for grandparents, and other individuals who reside in the same dwelling as a child, to potentially have standing in suits affecting the parent-child relationship.