Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin
C. I., Appellant
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Appellee
THE 425TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT OF WILLIAMSON COUNTY NO.
18-0086-CPS425, THE HONORABLE BETSY F. LAMBETH, JUDGE
Justices Goodwin, Baker, and Kelly
L. Kelly, Justice
appeals a final order in a suit affecting the parent-child
relationship brought by the Texas Department of Family and
Protective Services. C.I. challenges the trial court's
order, entered on a statutorily compliant mediated settlement
agreement (MSA), asserting that the trial court abused its
discretion because (1) the circumstances changed almost
immediately after entry of the final order, (2) C.I.'s
signature on the final order indicates that the final order
was approved as to form only, and (3) there is insufficient
evidence that the order is in the children's best
interest. We will affirm.
2018, the Department took custody of C.I.'s two children,
S.B. and C.B., and placed them with their maternal aunt and
uncle, S.I. and G.V.D.P. At the time, the Department was
investigating a report of neglectful supervision of the
children due to a domestic dispute between C.I. and her
boyfriend. The Department's affidavit in support of
removal also detailed other instances of domestic violence-in
the children's presence-between C.I. and her boyfriend
and between C.I. and T.J.B., her former husband and the
children's father. The affidavit also described concerns
about C.I.'s use of illegal drugs and abuse of
prescription drugs. The Department was appointed S.B. and
C.B.'s temporary managing conservator, and the trial
court issued an order containing a family service plan
establishing requirements for C.I. to regain custody.
February 2019, the court ordered the parties to mediate. In
April 2019, the parties and their attorneys, the
children's attorney ad litem, and S.I. and G.V.D.P.
participated in a mediated settlement conference.
See Tex. Fam. Code § 153.0071 (providing
alternative dispute resolution procedures in child-custody
cases). The settlement conference culminated in an MSA in
which C.I. agreed, among other things, that S.I. and G.V.D.P.
would be appointed permanent managing conservators of S.B.
and C.B. and that C.I. would be appointed their possessory
conservator and have visitation as agreed by her and the
managing conservators or, in the absence of an agreement,
three hours supervised visitation and one hour of facetime
(or similar platform) per month. The MSA was signed by C.I.
and her attorney, the Department's representative, the ad
litem for the children, T.J.B. and his attorney, and S.I. and
G.V.D.P. Attached as an exhibit to the MSA was a "Final
Order in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship"
setting forth the agreed terms. The MSA recited that its
provisions "are intended to be incorporated into a final
after executing the MSA, the parties presented the agreement
to the trial court. The Department advised the court that the
parties had waived a jury trial and reached an agreement on
the placement plan for S.B. and C.B. as well as on the
parents' visitation with the children. Department
representative Teri Freeman testified that the agreement was
in the children's best interest because they would
"be placed with relatives, their maternal aunt and
uncle, and dad will still be able to have visits with them
and it's also important that mom continues to have visits
with the children." Freeman testified that the agreement
would provide the children with a stable environment. Freeman
stated that C.I. had a long history of involvement with
domestic violence, that she had refused to submit to
court-ordered drug testing, and that she was not compliant
with the court-ordered service plan. Freeman testified that
she had seen no improvement on C.I.'s part during the
pendency of the case nor had she rectified the issues that
caused the Department to take custody of SB. and C.B. Freeman
stated that the children were doing well in their year-long
placement with S.I. and G.V.D.P. Freeman testified that it
was in the children's best interest for the trial court
to adopt the order presented to the court.
the children's father, testified that the agreement
reached by the parties was in the children's best
interest. The children's ad litem stated that the agreed
order was "certainly" in the children's best
interest. C.I. did not attend the hearing, which was
conducted immediately after she signed the MSA. The trial
court asked C.I.'s counsel whether she believed that C.I.
understood the agreement memorialized in the MSA. C.I.'s
I do, Your Honor. I went over it with her, we've been
discussing possible options that could be placed in the order
for a while now prior to today's mediation and I do
believe that she has an understanding of what she has signed
and what she has agreed to.
trial court noted that the final order presented to the court
appeared to have been "approved as to form only and not
substance" and stated that the court "wanted to
make sure that [C.I.] understood that she was agreeing to
this order in substance." The trial court stated:
"I believe that it's covered by her signing the
mediated settlement agreement that was attached to this order
but I'm just wanting to make certain that the record is
clear." The trial court entered judgment on the MSA and
signed the final order that had been attached as an exhibit
to the MSA.
the final order was signed, C.I. filed a motion for new trial
in which she stated that S.I., her sister and one of the two
appointed permanent managing conservators, had died three
days after the final order was signed. C.I. argued that the
trial court should grant the motion because it was "not
in the children's best interest for the children to
remain under the managing conservatorship of [G.V.D.P.], who
is no longer related to the children since the death of his
wife, [S.I.]." C.I. also asserted that the evidence was
legally and factually insufficient to support the court's
order regarding managing conservatorship of the children. The
motion for new trial was overruled by operation of law, and
this appeal followed.
has a policy of encouraging "the peaceable resolution of
disputes," particularly in disputes involving the
parent-child relationship. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code
§ 154.002; Brooks v. Brooks, 257 S.W.3d 418,
421 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2008, pet. denied). In furtherance
of that policy, Texas Family Code section 153.0071 permits a
trial court to refer a suit affecting the parent-child
relationship (SAPCR) to mediation ...