Next month, the Texas Supreme Court will begin hearing a case to decide whether a little girl's deceased mother's boyfriend or the child's father should have custody of her.
Rob Henneke of Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), an organization that filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the biological father in this case, says the issue is the protection of the presumption of fitness in a parent in opposing a custody suit by a non-parent.
The mother of the female child was never married to the biological father.
"The dad was the only living parent of the baby. But in this situation, the boyfriend of the mom, who had been living with the mom for approximately ten months, sued for custody," Henneke continues. "In Texas, you are allowed to sue for custody if you have possession of a minor for at least six months. But in this situation, you had a fit parent, the father, who took the baby in when the mother died."
A lower court judge gave joint custody to the biological father and the mother's boyfriend. Then the Texas Supreme Court stepped in on an emergency basis and stopped joint visitation.
"At the Texas Public Policy Foundation, one of our policy focuses is through our Centers for Family and Children, and in that we advocate, among other issues, for the importance of parental rights and protecting and defending those parental rights," says Henneke. "In this case we filed the friend-of-the-court brief on the side of the biological father, urging the Texas Supreme Court to recognize that the presumption of fitness in a parent needs to apply in all situations, and that this was a case where the trial court was wrong, and that this was an opportunity for the Texas Supreme Court to strengthen constitutional protections for parents here in Texas."
Argument is tentatively set for the week of March 24th. A decision is expected no later than June.
"Parental rights, the rights of a parent to raise and control and nurture their child -- those aren't rights given by government," Henneke says. "Those are rights that are inherent to the parent. In extreme situations, government can step in, and [it] sometimes does step in on in terms of cases involving abuse or neglect or so forth."
But as he points out, the default is the constitutional rights a parent has to his or her child, and his firm contends it is important for this case to have that recognition from the Texas Supreme Court.