June 29, 2020 – For more than a year, Chris and his five-year-old daughter Ann have been fighting a decision made by a Texas district court that granted an unrelated man partial custody of Ann over Chris’s objections.
Today, that fight came to an end as the Supreme Court of Texas (SCOT) ruled to permanently reunite Chris and Ann.
Background of the Case
On May 8, 2019, Chris Clay was told by a Texas district court that he would share custody of his daughter, Ann, with an unrelated man.
The court ruled that although it agreed Chris was a completely fit parent who raised his daughter well, he would have to let Ann live part-time with another man. Not a relative. A man who had been engaged to Ann’s mom for three months and then wanted to share custody.
Chris wasn’t accused of doing anything wrong. But he was told he had to share custody anyway. Because someone else wanted her.
The district court awarded a non-relative custody. All on the grounds that a biological father had no more right to his own daughter than someone else who wanted her. Being her parent simply didn’t make a difference.
Chris took his fight for his daughter to the Supreme Court of Texas (SCOT).
The Case at the Supreme Court of Texas
After Chris’s appeal, the SCOT temporarily stopped the district court from taking Ann from Chris until they heard the case. Chris used a special (and difficult to obtain) legal procedure which required him to prove that the district court “severely abused its discretion” when it gave custody of Ann to the unrelated man.
Unfortunately, what happened in this case is not uncommon. A review of the last 20 years of cases found that Texas courts are systematically ignoring family freedoms. Supporters of Chris and Ann hoped that the SCOT would take the opportunity to help reverse this trend.
On April 22, 2020, the SCOT held a hearing to review the case. The attorney representing the man seeking custody of Ann argued that Chris had no greater right to raise her just because he was her father. His argument was contrary to constitutional law.
In response, Chris’ attorney pointed out three things:
- First, that the United States Constitution requires courts to presume that parents are fit and that they act in the best interests of their children;
- second, that the United States Constitution prohibits courts from interfering with the child-rearing decisions of fit parents;
- and third, that all parties in the case acknowledged that Chris is a fit parent.
Why This Case Is So Important
In this landmark ruling, the SCOT squarely rejected the argument that a parent has no greater right to raise their child than a non-parent.
The SCOT reaffirmed the longstanding constitutional rule that parents’ actions are presumed to be in the best interests of their children. The SCOT ruled that, “the trial court’s decision in this case reflected “exactly the opposite.”
The district court’s unconstitutional decision to substitute its own opinion for Chris’s about what was best for Ann was overturned.
The constitutional rule was underscored: courts may not interfere with the child-rearing decisions of fit parents simply because they believe that “better” decisions could be made.
Chris and Ann’s case may be the most significant parental rights case in Texas history. Had they lost, live-in-boyfriends, nannies, students renting rooms in the house or anyone else who may have lived with a child for a relatively short amount of time would have been allowed to gain custody of the child from their parents. Just because they wanted it.
The Bottom Line
Ann will get to stay with her dad.
Numerous pro-family groups stood for Ann. FFP filed a brief with the SCOT and launched a campaign to defend her, and thousands of people around the country intervened and helped raise awareness of the case.
While the battle to protect family rights is not over, this decision from the SCOT will serve as a milestone in that fight.