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What can a court do in response to a petition to lift a geographic restriction in Texas?

For the better part of a week, the Law Office of Bryan Fagan has posted blogs that center around the subject of lifting a geographic restriction in Texas. The process that is involved with doing so, the defenses that a parent can offer who does not want the restriction lifted and other details that relate to the case were all discussed. If you have not read those blog posts I highly recommend that you do. 

Today will be the final installment in this series of blogs. We will walk through some of the remedies that the court may choose to utilize in your case and what impact they could have on your family. At the conclusion I will share some final thoughts on this subject and recommend some courses of action for you to take no matter if you are petitioning for the modification or defending yourself against one. 

The judge can grant the petition. Or not.

This is the most straightforward path for the judge to pursue. You can have a hearing on the petition to modify the divorce decree in which you seek to have a geographic restriction lifted. Basically, you are asking the court to allow you to move outside a pre-determined area. It is difficult to get this done but it is possible in the right circumstances. You would file the petition, provide notice of a hearing with your ex-spouse and then show up to court that day.

The judge would listen to evidence from you and your ex-spouse. At the conclusion of the hearing the judge can either grant the relief the petition is asking for and lift the geographic restriction. You may now move outside that area with your child and not be in violation of the court order. Or, the judge can choose to not grant the relief you are requesting and keep the geographic restriction in place. You and your child will not be moving, or at least will not be moving as far away. 

Custody can change in a modification case 

The judge can look to the circumstances of your case and make adjustments to custody and parenting time if doing so is in the best interests of your child and is justified under a substantial change in circumstances. You could lose parenting time if you bring a modification lawsuit that is unfounded. Sometimes it happens that these lawsuits are based on the vindictive nature of a parent. If that parent is you and your ex-spouse presents evidence of this to a judge- look out. You may end up with a result that is rather surprising to you. 

In extreme situations you may even lose your right to determine the primary residence of your children. For example, if you bring a petition to modify based on wanting to have a geographic restriction lifted but do so based on facts that lead a court to believe that you did so primarily out of your own self interest then your judgment may be called into question. A counterpetition to give your ex-spouse that right could be successful under these type of circumstances. 

You may get your geographic restriction lifted- but at a cost

If you want your geographic restriction lifted and have the facts to get that done, it may be possible for you. However, be aware that you may have to pay for it- one way or another. For instance, if you are moving many states away or at least a distance far enough to need airplane travel, you may end up having to pay for your ex-spouse to come visit your child. When your child does to visit your ex-spouse you almost surely will have to pick up those costs as well. 

You should also be prepared to come up with solutions to common logistical problems like transportation. I have had some eager parents offer to have a stepparent provide transportation for the ex-spouse and children in his private airplane which he volunteered to fly from Dallas to Houston to facilitate long distance visitation. Obviously this is an extreme example, but it is true that you will need to be flexible and creative to get long distance visitation to work. 

Child support may be changed in light of the modification

Child support can be modified for the same reasons that the geographic restriction could be lifted: if a substantial change in circumstances has occurred for a party or a child and the modification requested is in the best interests of the child. Depending on what happens the amount of child support that you either pay or receive could be adjusted up or down. 

If you have your modification request granted then your ex-spouse will almost surely have his child support payments decreased. This will be due to his having increased transportation costs associated with visiting a child who now lives much further away. By the same token if you are responsible for paying those transportation costs the child support may be left alone. 

Changes in the custody arrangement may also alter child support and how it is paid. Speak to your attorney before your case begins to get an idea of how a request to change the geographic location where you reside may have a far reaching economic impact on your family. 

Communication is key when distance is involved

When you and your ex-spouse live around the block from one another there is less of a chance that information can be lost between the two of you. After all, you can walk around the block and knock on the other person’s door for an update regarding your child.

On the other hand, if your ex-spouse is able to move halfway around the world you will need to focus much more closely on communication with one another. For instance, if you move from place to place in a faraway area you will absolutely need to update your ex-spouse. This way he will be able to make sure that he knows how to reach your child in the event of an emergency. Most divorce decrees already contain orders that make this sort of thing mandatory. However, the need to do so is lessened when parents live close by. Getting the geographic restriction lifted increases your responsibility level a great deal.

The burden to pay attorney’s fees may be shifted

The judge can order you to pay your spouse’s attorney fees, or vice versa, depending on the results of the hearing. It is commonplace for a party to tell the court that they are seeking attorney’s fees as a result of bringing the lawsuit or defending against that lawsuit. In situations where it is shown that a party has acted in bad faith, a judge may order that side to pay their own and their ex-spouse’s attorney’s fees. 

Go to mediation and don’t come back until you have an agreement in place

This happens in many different family law cases. Courts are aware of how successful parties can be when entering into mediation with an opposing party. As such, judges will often times order families to attend mediation in order to come up with an agreement on whatever issues they are facing. This is opposed to having the judge intercede and play tiebreaker. 

Mediation would be most effective in situations where there is some sort of middle ground where settlements can be had. However, in some situations involving the lifting of geographic restrictions there is no middle ground. Either the restriction can be lifted and a move allowed or the restriction will remain in place and no move will be possible. With that said, if a restriction can be lifted many terms associated with the new order can be worked out in mediation and the need to pay for a contested hearing will be eliminated. 

Social studies may be ordered

Upon the motion of either party to a mediation case or upon the motion of the judge a child may be interviewed by a licensed counselor or attorney. The purpose of this interview is to determine whether or not the lifting of a geographic restriction is in the best interests of the child. Often times neither parent can see through the weeds and make a decision for their child that is purely based on what is in the best interests of the child. The social study attempts to bridge that gap.

Costs associated with the social study can be split between you and your spouse or can be divided up proportionate to your incomes. The addition of a social study to a modification case will lengthen the case out. This means that any hope you had of a quick resolution to this case will be tossed out the window. However, in cases where the issues are complex and/or could go either way, a judge may want the perspective of an outside to be available to him before he makes a decision on whether or not to grant the modification request.

The bottom line: think long and hard before bringing a modification case

Modification cases are among the most difficult to win because there exists a significant burden that you must bear in order to win. That’s not to say that you cannot be successful. However, you will need experienced counsel by your side to best ensure that you have a chance at winning your case and having that geographic restriction lifted. Examine why you are asking to have the geographic restriction lifted and if there are any other remedies available to the court that will meet your needs- short of having the geographic restriction lifted. 

Facts are incredibly important in these modification cases. The individual facts and circumstances of your case will go a long way towards determining whether or not you can be successful in bringing a modification lawsuit. You can and should meet with an attorney before filing a modification in order to learn as much as you can about the process. These blogs I have been posted the past week will help but they cannot comment on your specific circumstances. Go through your case with an expert and see what he or she has to say. 

I would approach a modification case like this: can you accomplish whatever goals you have for your children and yourself without having the restriction lifted? If you need a new job- can you find one in your area with just a little more diligent of a search? If you want to move closer to family- can you and your ex-spouse negotiate for you to have longer visits with the kids each summer to allow for your family to fly here to see them? Whatever your individual circumstances are you need to be aware that asking for a court to lift a geographic restriction can be time consuming and costly. It may also be worth it, but at the end of the case I want you to feel confident that you were made aware of your options and proceeded down the path that led to the best results for your children and for yourself. 

Questions about Texas family law issues? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

On behalf of the Law Office of Bryan Fagan I would like to thank you for choosing to spend the past week with us learning about how to get a geographic restriction lifted in a Texas family law case. If you have any questions about anything that you have read please do not hesitate to contact our office. We offer free of charge consultations six days a week with out licensed family law attorneys. These consultations are a great opportunity to ask questions and receive feedback about your specific circumstances. 

Our attorneys take a great deal of pride in being able to represent our neighbors in family law cases throughout southeast Texas. The work we are able to perform on behalf of our clients and their families is based on trust that is shared between our office and those clients. Please consider the Law Office of Bryan Fagan when determining whether or not to proceed with a family law case in southeast Texas. 

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