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."

 

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, 2011-2018, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. In 2014-2018, Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America for 2016 and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.