Needing to move is a reality that many people have had to face over the past couple of years. It seems like no matter who you talk to, someone has either moved since the beginning of the pandemic or has seen a friend or close family member do so. There are many reasons for this such as finding a new job, wanting to leave your home state for a place that is more hospitable to you and your family, and even for family law-related circumstances. When we talk about relocation it is a subject that requires a lot of planning even in the simplest of circumstances.
However, the need to plan for arelocation becomes even more pronounced when you consider that you may have children that will be moving with you. This can create a whole new set of circumstances when you think about how a family law case requires you to play by special rules when it comes to moving with your children after the conclusion of a family law case. The primary reason why this is true is that your children are now under the jurisdiction of a family law court. This means that you are no longer in a position where you can necessarily determine exactly where your children are going to live. Depending upon the circumstances of your family law case you may be extremely limited regarding where you can move your family at any time.
For example, if you and your co-parent have a geographic restriction in place then that geographic restriction is intended to promote the parent-child relationship between the parent who has visitation and the children. For example, if you are the parent who has visitation rights then this means that your children do not live with you primarily. For that reason, to help you maintain a strong relationship with your children the geographic restriction is oftentimes put into a court order that will require your children to live in a predetermined geographic area. That area could be Harris County, Fort Bend County, or anywhere else where your child lives. Whatever the predefined geographic region is the purpose of the restriction is to keep your child in that area so that you are not having to move around with your children frequently. Imagine not having a geographic restriction and your child’s mother frequently moving him or her and you having to play catch up each time this is an untenable situation for you and is not in the best interest of your child.
Additionally, if you are the primary conservator of your children and they live with you on a full-time basis and the geographic restriction applies to you primarily. Even though a court cannot tell you where you can live as an adult the court can tell the children where they can live since they are minors. In this way, the geographic restriction applies to you just as much as your children. Violating that geographic restriction can carry with it significant penalties and even find you being held in contempt of court for violating the court order. This is not a position that you want to find yourself in and would best be avoided if possible. Many parents in your shoes have attempted to get around a geographic restriction only to find that the juice is not worth the squeeze, so to speak.
Whatever your reason is for wanting to relocate with your children to a new location you need to understand the ramifications of that move and what it can mean to your future and that of your children. Additionally, managing the Co-parenting relationship with your Co-parent is a critical element to this conversation as well. In a joint managing conservatorship, parents like you and your Co-parent are encouraged to work together to put the best interest of your children at the forefront of your lives. Violating a court order regarding where your children can live not only is a bad idea from the perspective of the courts but also harms, you’re Co-parenting relationship during a sensitive time in your life, your co-parent, and your children.
In today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we are going to discuss the topic of relocation with children and what considerations you may need to take into account regarding this subject. Our attorneys understand that you have competing interests in your life where relocation may seem to be an incredibly attractive option. Our goal with this blog post is to help you understand the subject of relocation better so that you can prepare yourself and your family for a potential move in the future.
What are the baseline assumptions that you can make about your situation?
Unless you have been to court and have had a court order established about custody and conservatorship of your children, you and your co-parent have equal access, rights, and time concerning your kids. Neither of you is the parent who has superior rights and neither of you is the parent who can tell the other one how to raise the kids. Simply put, you are on equal footing until a family law court tells you otherwise. If your co-parent is denying you time with the kids then this is a difficult situation for you to find yourself in, for example, but she has the right to make decisions for her children as do you. The situation that you may find yourself in is that the two of you continue to fight over the kids and end up hurting the kids from an emotional perspective during this process. Imagine being your child and not knowing when you will be able to see your other parent.
Next, the best interest standard applies to your child custody situation. It is presumed in Texas that you are acting in the best interests of your child when making any decisions on their behalf. This presumption provides you with a wide degree of latitude when it comes to taking your children places, teaching them things, and relocating with them, potentially. Parents move with their children all the time into and out of different situations. We don’t think about them too much just because this presumption is so strong. A family court judge does not have to sign off on your moving with your kids. Unless, of course, you already have a court order in place that somehow restricts your ability to move with the kids out of a certain geographically defined area.
Last, there is another presumption that applies to parents and children in Texas that we need to be aware of. Namely, that it is in the best interests of your children for both you and your co-parent to have a relationship with your kids. Therefore, if you do go through with a family law case, you and your co-parent will likely be named as joint managing conservators of your children. This structure would allow both of you to hold rights and duties to your children that are equal in many regards. Of course, the two of you can structure your possession schedules and conservatorship rights and duties however you would like. However, if you cannot agree with your co-parent on common solutions to these problems then a judge will likely institute a joint managing conservatorship with some form of a standard possession order (SPO) when it comes to breaking down time and possession with the kids.
Relocation and its impact on possession orders and conservatorship
The reason why I shared this information about possession and conservatorship with you is that relocating with your children can certainly impact both areas on a practical level. For example, even if you do not have a court order in place with your co-parent, moving with your children a great distance from him or her would have an impact on their ability to build and maintain a meaningful relationship with your children. We hear about, and maybe even have been a part of, “long-distance relationships” romantically. I think if we are being honest with ourselves, we would say that those relationships tend to not work out all that well in the long run. The same is true when it comes to trying to parent your child from a long distance. Parenting is best done when both parents have well-defined rights, duties, and time with the kids. Predictability, consistency, and stability are keys to this discussion. Without these qualities, the nature of your child’s relationship with both parents will struggle.
If you have not been to family court to have court orders established regarding possession, access, and visitation then you run the risk of your co-parent moving with the kids however frequently he or she would like to. The position that you are put into is that you will have to chase your children all over the city, state, or country in hopes of maintaining a relationship with them. This becomes untenable very quickly for several reasons. Your best bet is to go through family court, obtain court orders that define rights, duties, and time with the kids, and have some peace of mind that you will not have to move with the kids.
Where you live is important when it comes to your relationship with your child
Without a doubt, choosing wisely when it comes to determining where to live is important concerning your relationship with your child. This is especially true if you and your co-parent do not live together. Coordination between you and your co-parent becomes important to be able to make sure that everyone is on the same page as one when it comes to schoolwork, activities, discipline, and health issues. Living a long distance apart from one another can make this type of coordination very difficult. It does not take a parenting expert to also understand that there are logistical difficulties associated with getting your child to and from your co-parent’s home in the event of a relocation. Travel problems, illness, and unforeseen issues can all spell doom for a weekend of visitation. The farther you and your co-parent live from one another the more difficult coordination of these periods of possession becomes.
However, sometimes it becomes advantageous to move after a prior family law case. You may get a job offer in another city or state and the move would allow you to pursue the job. Or, you may become romantically involved with someone who lives in another city. These are some common reasons why a relocation may be in the cards for you and your family. Whatever your motivation to move maybe you should consider the impact of doing so on your children and on the court orders that you have with your co-parent. This is especially true if you have a geographic restriction or possession schedule that would be destroyed if you decide to move a great distance from your co-parent.
What are you allowed to do as far as moving with your child?
We are going to assume, for this section of the blog post, that you are the primary conservator of your child. This means that your child “lives with you” during the school year. Your co-parent probably has weekend periods of possession and shares holiday possession of the children with you. Whether you have a child custody and possession schedule as a result of a divorce or child custody case is inconsequential. All that matters is that you have gone through a family law case and have orders in place that dictate the time(s) of the year that you will spend with your child as well as if there are any restrictions on where you can live with them.
You need to be familiar with whether there is a geographic restriction in your court orders. A geographic restriction will tell you where your children can live. Usually, a geographic restriction is limited to an area like “Harris County” or may be expanded to “Harris County and any county contiguous to Harris County.” Take a look at your final orders (the ones signed by a judge) to determine whether or not there is a geographic restriction in your case. If there is you need to think about what sort of move you have in mind with your children.
Violating a court order is something that you should seek to avoid at all costs. If your relocation would take you to a different subdivision in the same area then you probably would not be in danger of violating your court orders. However, if your court orders state that your children are to live in Harris County, but your move would require you to relocate to College Station then you are asking for trouble because College Station is well outside of the boundaries of your geographic restriction.
In this situation, your best option is to consider filing a modification with the court to lift the geographic restriction. The change in circumstances would be the opportunity to move for work or whatever circumstance has led you to seriously consider a move. Remember, however, that the move must be in the best interests of your children. You getting a job that pays a modest amount more than your current job- but takes the kids away from their other parent and other attributes of Houston probably is not in their best interests. This can be a tough pill to swallow for some parents- to understand that what is in your immediate best interests may not also be in your child’s best interests.
However, if you do not have a geographic restriction in place then you would be free to move with your children to a new area. Keep in mind that it would still be wise to talk to your co-parent about the move. He or she is your partner in parenting your children and a move like this would disrupt the possession schedule that he or she has with your child. If you move or do anything else that effectively makes the possession schedule unworkable then you are creating a new problem with your move. This may require a modification case in and of itself to create a more workable possession schedule for your co-parent if you do end up moving.
With so many moving pieces at play in a relocation case, you need to have an attorney assisting you throughout the process. This is not the sort of case that you can just wander into and expect to accomplish your goals. Meeting with an experienced family law attorney today is the first step towards setting and accomplishing goals in a relocation scenario.
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