The Texas Family Code includes several sections governing standing to seek managing conservatorship a suit affecting the parent-child relationship. Among them is section 102.004, entitled “Standing for Grandparent or Other Person.”
One way this section allows a grandparent to obtain standing is by submitting
satisfactory proof to the court that . . . the order requested is necessary because the child’s present circumstances would significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional development.
But what, exactly, does “satisfactory proof to the court” mean?
Satisfactory Proof to the Court
In In re K.D.H., No. 14-13-00006-CV (Tex. App. – Houston [14th Dist.] Apr. 3, 2014, the Fourteenth District Court of Appeals answered this question. In that case, a grandmother filed a suit requesting managing conservatorship. The grandmother claimed that the mother tested positive for marijuana while pregnant with the child, that the mother had two previous DWI convictions and one previous conviction for child endangerment, that the father was in jail and that both parents had a history of child neglect and physical abuse of the child. The grandmother requested a jury trial.
The Hearing on Standing
The mother filed a plea to the jurisdiction, contending that the grandmother had no standing. The grandmother had previously submitted information by affidavit. At the hearing, she testified and presented documentary evidence, including certified copies of the mother’s criminal convictions. Nevertheless, the trial court sustained the mother’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed the case.
The Court of Appeals Reverses
On appeal, the court of appeals considered whether the grandmother had made satisfactory proof to the court. The court of appeals considered, but rejected, these meanings of the phrase:
- Satisfactory proof as whatever the trial judge thinks it means – rejected as arbitrary, subjective and random.
- Proof by a preponderance of the evidence with factual findings by the trial court – but the issue of standing is a question of law, not a question of fact. This approach would deprive the grandmother of her jury trial.
The Test: Genuine Fact Issue
The court settled on whether there is a genuine fact issue in the evidence presented.
Under this construction, the trial court would determine whether the evidence submitted regarding the standing issue, considered in the light most favorable to the petitioner, would enable reasonable and fair-minded people to find that the order requested is necessary because the child’s present circumstances would significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional development.
Concluding that the grandmother met this test, the court of appeals reversed the dismissal and remanded the case for further proceedings.
More to Come?
Chief Justice Frost authored the opinion, joined by Justice Boyce, but Justice Jamison dissented. A split opinion is one of the bases for the Texas Supreme Court to assert jurisdiction when it decides whether to grant a petition for review. So we might not have seen the last of this case.