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Texas court says parents should be heard in custody cases

Any parents who could lose custody of their children must be personally notified of action to be taken against them, according to a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court.

Experts said that the ruling could have consequences in a number of child custody cases in the state. In 2011, according to statistics from the state Department of Family Protective Services, more than 17,000 of the 66,000 children who suffered through neglect or abuse were taken from their homes.

The high court made its ruling after hearing the case of a mother of four who saw in a newspaper ad that the state wanted to take custody of her children from her. The state said it took that step to notify her because the woman reportedly had told her case worker that she intended to move.

The court said that an advertisement via the newspaper was not suitable notification, especially since the state had a telephone number for her. State case workers also knew how to find the woman through her mother to give her the opportunity to state her case for custody.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court said the state must take reasonable steps to notify parents in person when it wants to take parents' children from them. If the state does not do so, the parents will have the right to appeal any court verdicts regarding custody beyond the mandated six months they have. The woman in the case had her appeal heard two years after the original court decision.

A man who formerly worked for the state Child Protective Services praised the court's decision, stating a newspaper ad was a last resort and not a very effective tool for notification.

Courts always should act in what is in the best interests of the children. Perhaps a parent has had a life-changing experience and has earned another opportunity to parent their children. Both parents and kids deserve for parents to be located and have their day in court.

Source: Texas Tribune, "State Must Alert Parents in Person in Custody Cases," Shefali Luthra, July 6, 2012

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