Last week, our blog discussed how the Texas Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a very important case concerning whether a child custody agreement reached between two divorced parents via mediation can be rejected by a judge out of concern for the safety of the child.
The case in question involves Benjamin R. and Stephanie L., a former couple who divorced back in 2007 and who had a two-year-old daughter at the time of the split. The couple reached a mediated settlement concerning custody in 2011 but this was later thrown out by two separate judges over concerns that the couple’s daughter was endangered by a convicted sex offender Stephanie L. was dating.
Please see “Texas Supreme Court to decide important case concerning mediation, child safety” for more in-depth background information.
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Arguments were eventually presented to the Texas Supreme Court and a decision on the matter is still pending.
According to legal experts, the outcome of the case will depend upon how the Texas Supreme Court chooses to construe differing sections of the Texas Family Code.
Specifically, the child custody section of the code outlines two very important policy objectives at the outset: the best interests of the child are always “the primary consideration of the court” and every child must be provided with a safe/nonviolent environment.
However, not long after this section, the code outlines specific instructions on mediated custody agreements that courts are bound to follow. Specifically, mediated custody agreements can only be rejected by a judge when one party was previously a victim of family violence that affected their choice “and if the agreement is not in the child’s best interest.”
Here, Stephanie L.’s attorney argued that Benjamin R. had testified during the hearing that he was never the victim of family violence. Consequently, the aforementioned conditions were not met and concerns over the welfare of the child were not enough to merit a rejection of the entire agreement.
Furthermore, he argued that few people would consider mediation as a viable alternative if they could later be dragged into a lengthy trial when one side begins to have reservations about the agreement reached.
Benjamin R.’s attorney, however, argued that otherwise imprudent mediated custody agreements were rather rare and enabling judges to reject them would not only have a negligible impact upon the courts but would also uphold the letter of the law.
It is worth noting that Attorney General Greg Abbott submitted a brief supporting Benjamin R., while the family law section of the State Bar of Texas submitted a brief supporting Stephanie L.
As for the couple’s daughter, she is currently living with Benjamin R. and has visits with Stephanie L. that are supervised by either Benjamin R. or another relative.
Stay tuned for updates on this important case from our Ft. Worth family law blog …
To learn more about traditional dissolution of marriage, divorce mediation or collaborative divorce, contact an experienced and skilled legal professional.
This post is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Names have been withheld to protect the identity of the parties.
The Austin American-Statesman, “Child safety case could affect disputed Texas divorces,” Chuck Lindell, May 28, 2012