Updated: Feb 4
As discussed in our post about where to file a petition for divorce, Texas venue and jurisdiction laws can be very difficult to navigate. Similar issues can be found in laws regarding original suits affecting the parent-child relationship (also known as SAPCRs). Persons wishing to file a SAPCR must deal with more complex language and exceptions, making it more important to consult an attorney rather than doing anything on your own.
In order to file a SAPCR, you must have standing. ‘Standing’ is what gives a person the legal authority to file a certain kind of lawsuit, based on their relationship to the subject of the suit. Texas Family Code Section 102.003(a) lists all the different parties that may bring a SAPCR. Of course, the parents of the child, a custodian of the child, and government agencies may bring suit. Additionally, standing may be obtained by a person who has had care, control, and custody of the child for at least 6 months.
Surprisingly, grandparents and other blood relatives are not considered to have standing to bring a SAPCR by their status as a relative alone. They must have some other legal relationship described in Section 102.003(a). The Texas Family Code often refers to relatives “within the third degree of consanguinity,” which is a broad term encompassing the following individuals for the purposes of the Texas SAPCR: grandparents, aunts, uncles, first cousins, and great grandparents. The only way these relatives may bring a SAPCR under Section 102.003(a)(13) is if the child’s parents are both deceased at the time the petition was filed.
However, Section 102.004 provides an emergency exception to these relatives. A grandparent or other relative of the child related within the third degree of consanguinity may file a suit asking for conservatorship provided they give the court proof that 1) the child’s present circumstances will significantly impair their physical health or emotional development; or 2) both parents, the surviving parent, or the managing conservator filed the petition or otherwise consented to the suit. The result is that these family members have no ability to interfere with the parent-child relationship absent clear proof of an emergency or consent from the parents, making these suits difficult.
The laws of venue and jurisdiction apply to SAPCRs as well. According to Texas Family Code Section 103.001, in general, an original SAPCR must be filed in the county where the child resides. There are a myriad of exceptions to this rule, though they are too numerous and complicated to discuss here. It’s for this reason that you should always consult with an attorney before filing a suit yourself. A family law attorney will examine court records to determine whether any other court orders may control the suit. For instance, there may be issues with continuing exclusive jurisdiction from another court, or an exception may apply based on the residence of the child’s guardian.
As with divorce cases, filing into the wrong court will cost you a significant amount of time and money. SAPCRs are often much more complex than divorces, requiring more time and effort by everyone involved. Consult a specialist before you file: you’ll be glad you did.