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Geographic Restrictions in Child Visitation Orders in Texas

Who gets to decides where the child should live?

In most divorce or child custody cases, the parents are named Joint Managing Conservators of the child. This means that the parents will both have the rights duties of parenting. It does not mean that the child will live with each parent for an equal amount of time.

Generally one parent will be named the primary Joint Managing Conservator. This parent will get to establish the residence of the child. The other parent will havevisitation with the child.

Types of Geographic Restrictions

In most cases, a child custody order will include geographic restrictions limiting where the parent with whom the child lives most of the time can move to.

Typical restrictions include:

  1. A mile radius from the other parent
  2. The county where the divorce occurred
  3. A specific city
  4. The county where the divorce occurred, plus surrounding or "contiguous" counties
  5. The State of Texas

The language you will find in most orders right before the Order restricting the residence is “The Court finds that, in accordance with section 153.001 of the Texas Family Code, it is the public policy of Texas to assure that children will have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of the child, to provide a safe, stable, and nonviolent environment for the child, and to encourage parents to share in the rights and duties of raising their child.

Harris County Texas and Contiguous Counties in Texas

The geographical restriction you will see in most visitation orders in Harris and Montgomery Counties is will restrict the custodial parent to live within the same county as the non-custodial parent or any of counties that it borders or "contiguous counties." For example, "Harris County and contiguous counties" This would include Harris county, as well as Montgomery county to the north, Waller and Fort Bend counties to the west, Liberty and Chambers counties to the east, as well as Galveston and Brazoria counties to the south.

Changing the Geographic Restrictions

At times a parent may wish to an area not included in the geographic restriction, and will seek to have the restriction removed or expanded.
In such a case a modification of the child custody order will be necessary for the parents that wishes to relocate.
The parent wishing to modify the child custody order will need to put on evidence that there has been “material and substantial change in circumstances.” One example of a material and substantial change might be a move. Factors that a court will consider include:

  1. Distance of a move
  2. Travel arrangements: if it is possible for the child to travel to see the other parent, and if so, who will make the arrangements and pay for them
  3. Parental relationship with a child, and how this move will affect those relationships
  4. The reason for the move (and the other parent’s reasons for challenging the move)
  5. Whether the other parent will still be able to enjoy meaningful access to the child (for example, through instant messaging or video conferencing)

If you are considering moving outside of your geographic restrictions, or your co-parent is planning on moving outside of their geographic restriction, you should speak to one of our Houston child custody lawyers immediately to help identify your options and a solution that would be right for your family.

Remedies for Violations of the Geographic Restriction

If a parent violates the geographic restriction, then one option for the other parent is to bring a motion to enforce the child custody order.
Often times the motion to enforce include a request that the parent violating the order be held in contempt of court for violating a court order. Contempt carries monetary penalties and can result in incarceration of the violating parent.

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