Treigh Kalinec, a father from Texas, has been engaged in a legal battle where he was fighting to retain full-custody of his children. That battle came to an end last week when the Supreme Court of Texas ruled in Treigh’s favor.
The case has been closely watched by parental rights advocates, who identified the case as one that could have broad implications for parents all across Texas. The Family Freedom Project and the Parental Rights Foundation both supported Treigh in his legal battle.
In 2021, one of Treigh’s inlaws filed a petition with the Supreme Court of Texas requesting that the court grant her partial custody of Treigh’s children after her request had been previously rejected by the court of appeals.
Treigh’s in-law made this request despite agreeing openly in court that Treigh was a good father and a fit parent.
On Friday, January 27, a major victory for parental rights was achieved when the Supreme Court of Texas rejected the request, thereby leaving in place the favorable decision from the Court of Appeals and ensuring that Treigh will retain his full rights regarding the upbringing of his children.
Even so, the battle was long fought, dragging on for years through the trial court, the court of appeals, and finally the Supreme Court of Texas.
Treigh Kalinec was represented by former Supreme Court of Texas Justice Eva Guzman, as well as Houston parental rights attorney Chris Branson. After opposing briefs were exchanged by Treigh’s legal counsel and that of Treigh’s inlaw, additional briefs were filed on Treigh’s behalf by the Family Freedom Project (FFP) and our friends at the Parental Rights Foundation.
Treigh’s in-law based her argument on the fact that she cared for the children during a CPS investigation of the family several years ago. At the end of the CPS case, the children were returned home to Treigh. The court, CPS, and all of the parties acknowledged that Treigh was a fit parent and there was no concern regarding his ability to raise his children.
Even so, Treigh’s in-law filed a lawsuit demanding partial-custody of Treigh’s children. She argued that, while Treigh may have been found fit and had his children returned to him, because the investigation happened in the first place and because she took on responsibility to help care for the children during the investigation, she should be able to take partial-custody of the children long-term.
The idea that a parent investigated by CPS could be exonerated, have his children returned to him, and then lose them again despite being a fit parent set off alarm bells in the legal community from experts concerned about parental rights.
Mother-in-Law – Summary of Brief Filed
In her brief to the court, Treigh’s mother-in-law argued that she should be able to take partial custody of Treigh Kalinec’s two children from him. She acknowledged the well-known legal requirement that, as the parent, Treigh should have a “presumption” in his favor, but contended that the court should set a low bar for when a non-parent like herself should be allowed to overcome this presumption and take partial-custody of a parent’s children.
“She contends in this brief that the Court should establish a reasonable criterion that recognizes the value of the fit-parent presumption while also recognizing that it is not absolute and that it can be overcome in the appropriate circumstances. Too much is at stake – in this case and more broadly – for parents, for their children, and for grandparents who unquestionably have played a parent-like role in those children’s lives. . .
Setting a workable standard will serve to confirm the importance of the fit-parent presumption but at the same time confirm it is not absolute and can be overcome in the right case. Properly applying it, in this case, will bring long-awaited access back to a grandmother who had been like a mother.”
Treigh Kalinec – Summary of Brief Filed
In a fierce defense of Treigh’s rights as a parent, former Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman pointed out how remarkably flimsy parental rights would become if the court were to accept the argument proposed by Treigh’s in-law. She points out first that the in-law waited until this final moment of the case to claim that she had overcome the presumption in Treigh’s favor, but that at every prior point in the case, she had contended that the presumption did not apply in the first place.
Then, at the 11th hour, the in-law finally acknowledged that the presumption did exist, but presented no competent evidence with which to overcome that presumption. For this reason, the brief argues that the in-law should be disallowed from raising the issue at all before the Supreme Court of Texas.
The brief then contended that the preemption in favor of a parent can only be overcome to prevent significant harm to a child but that the in-law has presented no such evidence.
Family Freedom Project – Summary of Brief Filed
The FFP filed a brief defending Texas father, Treigh Kalinec, and his children. FFP agreed with Treigh’s counsel that the in-law had waited until the 11th hour to acknowledge the presumption in Triegh’s favor and that, for this reason, she should be disallowed from bringing her case before the Supreme Court of Texas.
We went on to argue that, should the Supreme Court of Texas take up the case, they should strongly defend parental rights in Texas by establishing that a non-parent is never be allowed to overrule parental decisions unless it is necessary to protect the child from significant harm.
Without this protection for parents and children, the parent-child bond may suffer irrevocably if the court haphazardly replaces the parent’s judgment with its own.
Read the full brief from the Family Freedom Project.
Parental Rights Foundation – Summary of Brief Filed
The Parental Rights Foundation’s brief conducted a comprehensive 50-state review of how other courts have handled the question of parental rights.
Drawing from this review, the Foundation pointed out that Thirty-eight states protect the fundamental right of parents by requiring third parties to provide either clear and convincing evidence or a showing of harm to the child. On this basis, they argued that third parties who seek to overrule the wishes of parents should be required to prove parental unfitness by clear and convincing evidence.
Our position is simple: courts may not overrule the decisions of a parent regarding their children unless it is necessary to protect the child from significant harm. This case was a major win for parental rights because Treigh Kalinec’s rights as a father were upheld.
Because the Supreme Court did not take up the case, FFP will continue looking for future opportunities to make the argument to the court that parental rights should never be overruled except to prevent significant harm. A ruling on that issue from the Supreme Court of Texas will be essential for the long-term protection of parental rights in Texas.
FFP is built on a simple presumption: God gave children to parents. Therefore, it is the fundamental right and high responsibility of parents to raise children.
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