2021 Legislation: Family Reunification Reform

A parent’s incarceration can have a devastating impact on their family; their parental rights can be terminated and their children can be placed in the custody of the state. When a formerly incarcerated parent returns to the community and has taken steps to create a safe, stable home, it is important to provide them a pathway to reinstate their parental rights and reunite with their children.

HB 2926 (Authors: Parker, Krause, Minjarez, Talarico | Sponsor: Buckingham), Relating to the reinstatement of the parent-child relationship with respect to a person whose parental rights have been involuntarily terminated and to certain requirements in relation to the termination of the parent-child relationship or placement of a child in substitute care.​ This bill creates a path for formerly incarcerated parents to regain the rights to their children. More specifically, people whose parental rights were involuntarily terminated – including due to imprisonment and inability to care for their children – can file a petition requesting the court to reinstate their rights. That petition is only permitted if: the termination of rights resulted from a suit filed by the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), two years have passed since the rights were terminated, the child has not been adopted and is not the subject of an adoption placement agreement, and the petitioner has notified DFPS of their intent to file the petition at least 45 days in advance of filing it.

The petition for reinstatement of rights must include, among other things: (1) a summary statement of the facts and evidence that the petitioner believes demonstrate that the former parent has the capacity and willingness to perform parental duties established by law, including steps the former parent has taken toward personal rehabilitation since the order terminating parental rights (e.g., mental health and substance abuse treatment, employment, or other personal history that demonstrates rehabilitation); and (2) a statement of the intent or willingness of the child to consent to the reinstatement of parental rights, if the child is 12 or older.

A reinstatement hearing must be held within 60 days of the petition’s filing date. The petitioner has the burden of proof in the hearing, and each party can call witnesses. The court can grant the petition and order the reinstatement of parental rights only if the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that reinstatement of rights is in the child’s best interests, and that the former parent has remedied the conditions that were grounds for the order.

If the child is 12 years or older, they must consent to the reinstatement and desire to reside with the parent for reinstatement to occur. If the child is 11 or younger, the court must consider the child’s age, maturity, and ability to express a preference, and it can consider the child’s preference regarding the reinstatement as one factor (considered along with all other relevant factors) in making the determination.

Following a hearing, the court may grant or deny the petition, or defer the decision and issue a temporary order that will expire in 6 months, during which DFPS will remain the child’s managing conservator and the former parent will be the possessory conservator. In this case, DFPS must monitor the possessory conservatorship during the temporary order and, when it expires, the court must hold a hearing to determine whether to grant or deny the petition for reinstatement. If, following the hearing, the court denies the petition for reinstatement of parental rights, it must issue a written order that includes its findings and prohibit the filing of a subsequent petition for at least one year.

Note: Immediately after a court orders termination of the parent-child relationship in a suit filed by DFPS, DFPS must notify certain relatives of the child about the termination, and give those individuals 90 days to file an original suit or a suit for modification requesting managing conservatorship of the child. In making a placement decision for a child, DFPS must give preference to persons in the following order: (1) a person related to the child by blood, marriage, or adoption; (2) a person with whom the child has a long-standing and significant relationship; (3) a foster home; and (4) a general residential operation. Signed by the Governor; effective on 9/1/2021

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