North Carolina and Restoring Parental Rights in Texas

The Internet is awash with reaction against a judge in North Carolina who acknowledged in a custody case that the children had done very well academically in their home school, but he ruled that they must be placed in public school to “test” their biblical beliefs.

This is very similar to the number of home school families in Texas who have been challenged in court by grandparents who disagree with decisions that they have made for their children. Hundreds of such cases across the state have resulted in the kind of outrageous judicial actions as this one in North Carolina.

We have been writing about this situation for a couple of years now. HB 2084 by State Representative Phil King is the Texas Parental Rights Restoration Act (TPRRA) and will amend the grandparent access statute that is badly out of balance-and some believe unconstitutional.

Grandparents whose child in the marriage is divorced, deceased, or in jail may sue the fit, custodial parent for access or even possession without providing any evidence that the parent is abusive or neglectful. The grandparents, who most often have more financial resources than the parents, use the courts to bludgeon parents who have made for their children decisions with which they disagree, including home schooling and religious instruction. Hundreds of such cases across the state result in single-parent families being destroyed or brought to the brink of bankruptcy simply because the grandparents insist the parents acquiesce to their opinions or desires.

In the last three years the Texas Supreme Court has had one such case before it each year, and this year there are currently three before the court. In every case thus far, the court has ruled in favor of the parents-only to have those parents sued again under the same statute.

The TPRRA is designed to resolve these issues by amending the law to require the grandparents to prove the parents are unfit at an initial hearing and, failing that, to pay court costs and attorneys fees. The measure also increases the level of evidence required to be the same as that required in custody cases.

On March 5, 2009, Texas home schoolers participating in Capitol Days lobbied every Texas state legislator on this issue, and we received good response. The ACLU supports this measure, and it appears that many Republican and Democrat legislators alike see the need to restore the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children in Texas.

Unfortunately the Family Law Foundation, the lobby of family law attorneys in Texas, is strongly opposed to this effort. A simple Google search will show the hundreds of attorneys who advertise to represent grandparents in such lawsuits. This represents a considerable revenue stream for many family law attorneys, and restoring balance to this area is not something they would agree to.

Support our effort to pass the TPRRA; please contact your state representative this week and ask them to co-sponsor or joint author the TPRRA (HB 2084). Ask your friends to contact them as well, and ask the staff of your state rep to let you know when he or she has taken the step of co-sponsoring HB 2084. Please let us know when your state representative has done so.

This legislative effort is the most important battle for parental rights since legal and political actions in the 1980s to clarify that home schooling was legal in Texas. Fit parents should not have to spend themselves into bankruptcy to defend their decisions that they believe are best for their children.