Post-Divorce Implications of Residency Restrictions on Your Child

Many individuals currently experiencing or contemplating divorce often inquire about potential changes to their child’s visitation schedule following the separation. While predicting exact possession and visitation outcomes can be challenging, it’s essential to understand that protective measures are in place to ensure parents maintain access to their children. In Texas, one such protective measure involves implementing residency restrictions for non-custodial parents.

To comprehensively grasp this issue, let’s begin by delving into the concept of determining your child’s primary residence and its implications within the context of divorce and post-divorce life.

Child custody rights and responsibilities in divorce

In a divorce, the court establishes rights and duties concerning your child. Many parents undergoing divorce primarily focus on the frequency of their post-divorce interactions with their children. It’s crucial to acknowledge that in every divorce, neither parent is entirely satisfied with the possession and visitation arrangements. Parents often desire more time with their child than what the divorce decree specifies.

Within this primary concern is the question of whether you will have the right to determine your child’s primary residence. This right grants you the privilege of having your child live with you primarily throughout the year. If you do not possess this right, you will receive a visitation schedule—either one negotiated with your spouse or one decreed by a judge.

This brings us to two pivotal concepts in your divorce: possession determined by a parenting plan and the right to determine your child’s primary residence based on conservatorship rights and duties. Many parents actively pursue the designation as the “primary” conservator, while others may agree that one parent better suits this role due to factors such as work schedules, parenting experience, and the child’s needs. Regardless, most divorces designate one parent as the primary conservator.

If you do not become the primary conservator, the court will designate you as the “possessory conservator,” granting you visitation rights with your child. Having visitation rights should not discourage you. In most divorced families, the breakdown of time spent with each parent is approximately 55/45—meaning the child spends 55% of the time with one parent and 45% of the time with the other parent. While it’s not a true split custody arrangement, it’s very close.

Geographic limits for primary residences

If you go through your divorce without being designated as the parent with the right to determine your child’s primary residence, don’t worry. You won’t typically face a situation where your child can move away from you due to your ex-spouse obtaining a new job or simply wanting to live in another town or state.

This happens because nearly every divorce decree contains geographic restrictions that safeguard the possessory conservator. The State of Texas implements these restrictions to ensure every parent can support their child and foster a relationship with them. Before you ponder how a court can dictate where a grown adult can live, it’s essential to clarify that the restriction applies to the child’s residence, not the adult’s. This condition can be agreed upon during mediation (which is highly likely), or a judge may require its inclusion if not previously specified.

Example of residency restrictions included in divorce decrees

Divorce decrees often incorporate various residency restrictions. In Harris County, there is a common provision that imposes a joint condition limiting the child’s residence to Harris County and its surrounding counties. Essentially, this means your child can reside in Harris County or any county that shares a border with Harris County.

Another option is to permit your child to reside within Harris County and within a specific distance from downtown Houston or your current residence. The parties typically agree upon this restriction based on specific circumstances they have negotiated. For instance, if you’re aware that your ex-spouse needs to live in proximity to an ailing relative who is just fifty miles away from your home but in a different county, you can opt for this restriction rather than adhering to the Harris County and contiguous counties regulation mentioned earlier.

An even more stringent restriction, which may sound a bit tongue-twisting, limits your child’s primary residence to a specific school district. For instance, I’ve encountered numerous clients and their spouses who have concurred that their child should continue residing within a school district that both parents highly favor. Consequently, the parents willingly agree to restrict the child’s residence to areas such as Katy ISD, Conroe ISD, or any other relevant community. While this type of restriction doesn’t arise frequently, a court will uphold it if it aligns with your family’s needs and is mutually acceptable to you and your spouse.

A move towards settlements rather than litigation

As you probably noticed in the prior section of this blog post, parents like yourself and your spouse can reach a wide range of agreements concerning the residency of your child. Allowing parents more influence over where the child will live also promotes settlements in mediation rather than requiring a trial where a judge imposes the rules.

The law in Texas has changed to bolster the authority of parenting plans negotiated outside of a trial, including matters related to the rights and duties of both you and your spouse. In my opinion, this is a positive development. It enables both parents to retain a sense of control over the situation, even if not everything aligns with their preferences during negotiations.

The other clear benefit is that mothers and fathers have a greater opportunity to continue fostering strong relationships with their children thanks to the geographic restriction. As long as you remain within the specified geographic area, your child must do the same. If your primary concern is maximizing your time with your child, this aspect should provide you with much-needed reassurance during your divorce. While certain aspects of your case may not be under your direct control as you’d prefer, in most instances, you can negotiate arrangements that allow you to spend quality time with your child in close proximity to your home. It’s a mutually advantageous situation.

Questions on geographic restrictions and divorce? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you are interested in hiring a law office whose attorneys are 100% committed to their clients, then you should look no further than the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. We have a team of family law attorneys who will always put your interests first.

To learn more about our office and ask us questions about your situation, please contact us today. We offer free of charge consultations six days a week.

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