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TX Supreme Court To Consider Hearing Parental Rights Case

Texas Supreme Court
Exterior of Supreme Court Building in Austin, Texas. | Image by Cin8 Films/Shutterstock

The Texas Supreme Court is considering whether it will review a case involving the termination of parental rights.

Christine Lenore Stary and her then-husband, Brady Neal Ethridge, divorced in May 2018 and agreed to share custody of their three minor children in a 50/50 split. In March 2020, Houston police were dispatched to Stary’s home, and one of the children was taken to Texas Children’s Hospital, where he claimed that his mother had assaulted him. Stary was charged with injury to a child under the age of 15.

Ethridge subsequently filed for a protective order and a temporary protective order for himself and the children. The temporary protective order was granted a couple of weeks after the incident. The father later dropped his request for a protective order for himself but continued to seek one for the children.

Following interviews with the children, the trial court ruled that October, granting a lifetime protective order for all three children for the duration of their lives. The court further ordered that Stary not have any periods of possession or access to the children for their lifetimes. Stary was also ordered not to have any contact with the children except through a court-appointed attorney or the children’s counselor. She was also ordered to submit to a psychological examination.

In June 2021, Stary appealed the protective order to a Texas appeals court. Despite Ethridge’s failure to file a response, the court issued a ruling six months later, with the majority of the three-judge panel upholding the lifetime protective order.

A dissenting opinion found that Stary’s constitutional right to due process had been violated as a result of the de facto termination of her parental rights without the constitutionally required burden of clear and convincing evidence.

“The trial court’s implementation of a lifetime protective order against a parent based on facts found by a mere preponderance of the evidence violated Stary’s right to due process,” the opinion reads.

In April 2024, Stary appealed the panel’s decision to the Texas Supreme Court.

Stary’s attorneys are arguing that the appellate court’s decision sets a dangerous precedent whereby parental rights can be terminated merely as a result of being accused of a felony. They further argue that parents are not typically given a lifetime ban from having any contact or a relationship with their children even after those children become adults.

They contest the “short hearing” that took place and argue that parents who have their children removed are typically given a period in which to perform court-ordered services by which they can regain custody of their children.

Her attorneys further argue that the trial court violated her constitutional right of due process by “granting a lifetime protective order against her as to her children, which amounts to a de facto termination of her parental rights.” Her rights were purportedly violated because the protective order was based on “the allegation of a felony charge that had not yet been adjudicated and without the constitutional protections of a criminal proceeding.”

Because Ethridge did not file a response in the case, the Texas Supreme Court appointed an attorney to file a brief in defense of the appellate court’s decision, reported The Texan.

According to the publication, the court has received all the necessary briefs and will now decide whether it will take up the case.

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