It may be that after filing a family law case a request comes into the court to transfer the case from one court to another. This may be because one or both parties have moved, and it is more convenient for the case to be heard in the location where the parties have moved. Or it may be that the subject matter of the case relates to property or issues that are located outside of that jurisdiction and for legal purposes, the case is being considered for a move. Whatever the circumstances maybe it is possible for a family law case to change locations as far as what court can issue rulings on various issues.
This is called a venue transfer. The rules for a venue transfer are complex enough that you may need assistance with this. Having filed a divorce or child custody case without an attorney is difficult enough as it is. You may also need some help with the more complex issues surrounding a venue transfer. Having an experienced family law attorney by your side for that part of a case, even if you have not been represented by a lawyer to that point can be a huge advantage for you. As you will see, the issues surrounding a venue transfer have more to do with specific factual issues in your case that need to be argued a certain way than other issues in a divorce or child custody case do.
The basics of a venue transfer
Depending upon the circumstances of your case it may become necessary or to your advantage to ask a court to transfer your family law case to another court somewhere else. This is known as a venue transfer. You may file your case in a Harris County family court and then ask the court to transfer your case to Dallas or Bexar County. This can happen from time to time for a few reasons. We will spend our time today not so much focusing on hypothetical examples of why you may need to transfer the venue of your case but rather on the process and legality of doing so.
The most common reason, I will say, as to why a family law case may need to have its venue transferred is because the court where your case was originally filed is no longer convenient for the parties to have their case heard. We know that people can move seemingly at a moment’s notice for various reasons. Your family may have experienced a move that is either temporary or permanent which would make a transfer of venue into or out of Texas much more convenient for you. Not having a choice about a move makes dealing with your family law case that much more difficult. However, by transferring your case to a new venue you can make the process much easier for your family. Let’s figure out how you can do that.
If you filed for divorce in Texas and want to transfer the case to a new court that becomes a little more difficult. Usually, you will need to remain in the county where your divorce was filed before moving. Even if you do move the court will not be excited at the idea of transferring your case to another location since the events of the case, your property, and your children are likely located in that area. As a result, if you plan on filing for divorce soon you should make sure that your current location is a place where you are ok to live for the foreseeable future.
Some people run into a situation where they may want to change the venue of their case due to it being in a place that is not convenient for them. For example, let’s say that your spouse filed for divorce in Denton County, but you live in Sugar Land. Denton County is north of Dallas and as a result, would not be very convenient for you. Transferring the case to Ft. Bend County would be easier on you and as a result, you may want to inquire about transferring the case from Denton to Ft. Bend County.
However easier it may be for you to have your divorce case heard close to home, if your spouse qualifies as a resident of Denton County then he or she may file for divorce there. Residency requirements for divorce include being a resident of Texas for at least six months before filing for divorce and then being a resident of the county where you are filing for at least 90 days before the divorce is filed. So long as your spouse meets these requirements then he or she may be filed for divorce in Denton County. It doesn’t matter if Denton County is not convenient for you.
Once your spouse files for divorce in Denton County or any other county where he or she may be residing then it is all over, most likely. The case will likely remain in Denton. You would have needed to have filed for divorce first in Ft. Bend County to have the case in a more convenient location. On top of that, it would be a good thing to have your ducks in a row once you found out that your spouse was living so far away. A divorce could be right around the corner.
Transferring a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship
We have just finished talking about how divorce cases are not transferred to different venues very often. The next question that we need to answer is whether a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship can be transferred to a different venue. The answer to this question is that it depends on several factors whether your SAPCR can be transferred to a different court. Ideally, your SAPCR should be filed in the county where your child lives. That way the proceedings can be handled, potentially, by a judge who is more familiar with the environment and the area where your child lives.
In a situation where your co-parent and child have moved out of state after your Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship has been filed then a Texas court will hear the case in the county where you reside. Otherwise, preference on the location for a case to be heard include the county where your child lives, the most convenient location to all parties if the child lives out of state, or any county that the judge decides is most appropriate as far as a venue.
What happens if I want to file a modification?
During your lifetime, the circumstances of your life, your child’s, or your co-parent’s will undoubtedly change. The one consistent force in life is change. With that said, you will have the opportunity to determine the significance of those changes and whether they necessitate a modification of your child custody orders. It should come as much of a surprise to you that the child custody orders that were put into effect when your child was 7 years old may not work as well when he is fourteen years old. As a result, the law in Texas allows you to be able to come back to court to have your modification request heard before a judge. This occurs in situations where you and your co-parent cannot agree on how to modify your court orders without the intervention of a judge.
A modification is a separate lawsuit that would be filed after your initial child custody orders are established. The court that issued those court orders has what is known as continuing exclusive jurisdiction over your case. If you were to file a modification case in the future on any aspect of your child custody orders, then that court would be the one to hear your case. Jurisdiction just means that this court has the authority and legitimacy needed to issue orders related to your case. In an ideal world, that court and the judge(s) in that court would have more familiarity with your case than any other court although it sometimes will happen that a completely different set of judges will hear your case in a modification than heard your case for child custody orders the first time around.
As with most things in the law, there are some exceptions to this rule. Let’s take a situation where nobody involved in the prior court orders still resides in Texas. This is not an impossible situation to envision. If you were last in family court 10 years ago you may have moved to another state with your child and your co-parent decided to move along with you all to remain close to your child. Now you all live in another state and have no ties left in Texas. In a situation like this, your case can be transferred to a court that is more convenient for all of you so long as you nor your co-parent has consented to the initial court continuing to exercise continuing exclusive jurisdiction.
Another situation could involve a circumstance where you and your co-parent both have come to an agreement that transferring venues is in the best interests of your child and submit a joint or agreed-on motion to transfer the venue to another county. The reasoning for this could be anything under the sun. Your child may be receiving cancer treatment at the Medical Center in Houston. As a result, you and your co-parent are both renting apartments and staying in Houston most of the time these days despite your official residence being in Polk County. In that case, you both could file an agreed motion with the court in Polk County to transfer venues to Harris County.
As we saw earlier in today’s blog post, if all party but one has moved from Texas then the appropriate county for venue purposes would be where the remaining Texan still resides. For example, let’s say that you and your co-parent got your child custody orders in Galveston County back in 2017. Since then, your co-parent has moved to Louisiana with your son. You still live in Galveston County but have had child custody orders that allow you to see your child two weekends per month. In that case, you would still be able to file your modification case in Galveston County since your initial orders are from this county and you still live there. You may want to try and ask for more time with your child if your job allows you to work remotely, for example.
What about if you had child custody orders from another state but live in Texas now?
Let’s suppose that the opposite situation occurs to what we have been discussing thus far in today’s blog post. What if you and your co-parent established child custody orders in Tennessee but now live in Texas? If those court orders are getting up there in years, then you all may have reached the point where those orders no longer suit your family. As a result, it makes sense that either you or your co-parent may be seeking a modification to change some aspect of those court orders that no longer suit you, your child, or your co-parent particularly well. It would be understandable if you would be hesitant to file a modification case if you believed that the only option that you had was that you would need to go back to the original court in Tennessee that issued your child custody orders. Is this how it would work?
A Texas court can potentially modify child custody orders from another state. The child custody orders would need to be first registered in Texas and the other state’s court would need to no longer have continuing exclusive jurisdiction over your case. If both you and your co-parent live in Texas along with your child, then this is one way for that court to lose continuing exclusive jurisdiction. Next, even if your child does not live in Texas but you and your co-parent do then this is another way for a Texas court to gain jurisdiction over the case and thus allow for a venue transfer to occur. Finally, both you and your co-parent could consent to a Texas county taking jurisdiction over your case. An agreed motion to transfer the venue to Texas could be filed in the original court and this court would likely grant the motion to transfer the venue to Texas.
What are the actual steps involved in transferring a case to a different venue?
First, you will need to file a motion to transfer the venue with the court where your child custody orders came from. If you are not sure, you can look for a copy of your court orders and then look at the top of the first page. You will find the county name at the top. You should contact the court by phone or look at their website for more information on how to file a motion to transfer the venue. There is a process involved, including the need to serve your co-parent with notice of your motion. If it is an agreed motion, then you would both need to sign the motion and file it with the court. Make sure that you are aware of whatever fees are involved in filing the document so you can be prepared to pay those when the time comes.
You would need to also include an affidavit explaining why the motion to transfer venue has been filed and is necessary. If you have moved since the time your court orders were issued, if your co-parent has moved, or if your child no longer lived in that jurisdiction you would need to explain that to the court. Be specific and provide detail to explain yourself. Then have the statement notarized and sign the affidavit in front of the notary.
Is there a deadline involved with filing a motion to transfer venue?
If you are filing a modification petition with the court, then you should file your motion to transfer venues at the same time. This way the court can consider both motions simultaneously and decide whether to allow for a hearing on either or both. If you are the party who is being served with a petition to modify a child custody order, then you have until the first Monday after 20 days have passed from the date on which you were served with the petition to file a motion to transfer venue. This can get complicated, and fast. Talking with an experienced family law attorney before you make any decisions about a modification or motion to transfer venue is a great idea.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as how your family’s circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.