A Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR) is a lawsuit by an individual seeking to establish custodial rights and privileges over a child. What most people in Texas don't know is that if anyone, other than a foster parent, has had actual care, control, and possession of your child for at least 6 months, then that person can file a SAPCR for your child within 90 days after the 6 month period.
"Standing" is the legal term for a person's right to file a lawsuit about something. Standing prevents random individuals from filing lawsuit about problems in which they're not involved. By way of example, Lex Luther can't file for a divorce between Superman and Lois Lane. Under Texas law, only Superman or Lois Lane have standing to file for a divorce between themselves. Similarly, only certain people have standing to file a SAPCR over a child. Some of the people and entities that having standing to file a SAPCR over a child include:
- (1) a parent of the child;
- (2) the child through a representative authorized by the court;
- (3) a custodian or person having the right of visitation with or access to the child appointed by an order of a court of another state or country;
- (4) a guardian of the person or of the estate of the child;
- (5) a governmental entity;
- (6) an authorized agency; and
- (7) a licensed child placing agency.
But what most parents don't know is that under Texas Family Code 102.003(a)(9), anyone (whether related to the child or not), other than a foster parent, has standing to file a SAPCR for a child if they: (1) have had actual care, control, and possession of the child for at least 6 months and (2) file a SAPCR for the child no later than 90 days after that 6 month period. If someone meets the requirements of 102.003(a)(9) for your child, then they can seek conservatorship of your child.
Here is an example of how 102.003(a)(9) could work. John and Mary are Jacob's parents. John and Mary work for the same company and lose their jobs at the same time in October 2014. John and Mary can't make their rent payments anymore and have to move out of their apartment in Sugar Land. However, they don't want Jacob to have to leave his school in the middle of the school year. So John and Mary decide to let Jacob live with their neighbors Emily and Joseph until the school year is over. John and Mary are very close friends with Emily and Joseph, who also love Jacob. Meanwhile, John and Mary move in with Mary's parents in Houston. Jacob lives with Emily and Joseph from October 2014 until May 2015. At the end of the school year, Emily and Joseph feel Jacob is better off staying with them, but John and Mary disagree. Emily and Joseph file a SAPCR in August 2015 to establish their conservatorship over Jacob. If the court finds that Emily and Joseph had actual care, control and possession of Jacob during the time Jacob lived with Emily and Joseph, then Emily and Joseph will have the right to seek conservatorship over Jacob. Emily and Joseph may or may not be successful, but they can put Jacob, John and Mary through the pain of a custody trial.
When determining whether a person has "actual control, care and possession of a child," courts will make their decisions on a case-by-case basis. However, there are some general legal principles courts will follow. Courts have held "actual control over a child" to mean a person exercises guidance, governance and direction over a child similar to what a parent would exercise over their children. Some but not all courts have held that "actual control" means the person must have had the right to make legal decisions for the child. Courts have held "care over a child" to mean the parent has given over the responsibilities of caring for the child to the other person. Also, when calculating the 6 month period of possession, courts do not require that the 6 months of possession be continuous and uninterrupted. Rather, courts will look at where the child's principal residence was during the 6 month period.
For parents, it's best to completely avoid any possible issue with section 102.003(a)(9) of the Texas Family Code. The best option is to not let your child move in with someone else. However, if your child has to live with someone else for a while, make sure it's only for 3 months at most. Also make sure that when your child leaves the other person's home at the end of their stay, your child completely moves out. There should be no question in anyone's mind that your child's only home is your home.
If someone you trusted is now trying to seek custody of your child, contact Sugar Land child custody attorney Chikeersha Puvvada at 832-317-6705 or online today to schedule a free 30 minute consultation.