Dallas Family Law Attorney Michelle May O'Neil was cited in an article published today in the Texas Lawyer news magazine. The article entitled Toddler Tug of War: Mother and Couple at Odds in Parental Rights Termination Case by John Council discusses a case pending in the Houston 1st Court of Appeals seeking to terminate a mother's parental rights when the baby was secreted from the mother by the father and unknowingly placed with a prospecitve adoptive family. The case turns on the question of whether the prospective adoptive family's ability to provide a better environment for the child than the mother should play a role in determining whether the termination of mother's rights is in the child's best interest.
From the article:
Michelle May O'Neil, a family lawyer and partner in Dallas' O'Neil Anderson, believes the 1st Court's decision may ultimately boil down to Jordan's "fundamental right to parent."
"The rights of a parent are constitutional. A parent has a liberty interest in establishing a home for their children and in raising their children. And the government can only interfere in that parent's rights when there are certain adequate reasons," O'Neil says. "For example, if CPS [Child Protective Services] has to take a child from a parent, they have to prove some sort of abuse."
Neither Jordan's mental health history nor her economic situation should figure into a court determination to end her parental rights, O'Neil says.
"Mentally ill people have a right to be parents. The government only has the right to interfere in parental relationships if there is abuse to the child," O'Neil says. "And you can be mentally ill and not abuse your child. One does not equate to the other."
"The question cannot be the quality of the family that the child is placed with," she adds. "The question in a termination proceeding is whether it's in the best interest of the child that the biological parent's right be terminated."
Ann Crawford McClure, a justice on El Paso's 8th Court of Appeals who is a past president of the State Bar of Texas Family Law Section, agrees with O'Neil. Texas courts require a higher burden of proof in parental rights termination cases than in normal family law cases, McClure says.
The Dosseys "have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that it's in the best interest of the child. The courts have been clear that you can't weigh lifestyle in that determination," McClure says. "You can't look at an adoptive family and say they are better off financially and can provide opportunities that the mother can't in determining the best interest of the child."