If you are like any number of people who have gotten a divorce in recent years in Texas, you have contemplated moving from your current area in order to make a new start for yourself in another location. While the desire or need to move is a common trait among many recent divorcees, the specific reasons that go into the decision to move may be unique. Let’s walk through a few of those reasons right now.
First off, you may have been contemplating a move even before you got divorced due to a change in the job market in your area. More and more, skilled and higher paying jobs are shifting to urban areas. Texas is no exception to this trend. The four largest metropolitan areas in Texas (Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin) have seen population explosions in recent decades. If you live in a small town and have a job that you enjoy, you may have thought about moving to keep your job if it were relocated to one of these areas.
Next, you may have gotten a divorce years ago and are now in a position where remarrying is in the cards for you. Divorce is more common in today’s world than in years past and it would follow that remarriage is also more common. If your new spouse is not a native Texan or resides in a different part of the state than where you met, it is not unrealistic to expect that you may be on the move sooner rather than later.
The other major factor that I think leads to people picking up and moving more frequently these days is the reality that it is easier to pick up and leave a place than ever before. With technology being at our fingertips there is less concern about leaving family behind than in years past. In prior generations people worked at the same place, lived in the same home and attended the same social and religious events that they had for their entire lives. With transportation and communication methods improving every year it is no longer a big deal to start anew.
How does the Texas Family Code handle persons who move after divorce?
Moving after a divorce is really only a big deal if you have children. The court doesn’t really care where you move unless there is a court order that says otherwise. For Texas parents, there is no specific law on the books that deals directly with parental relocation after a divorce. Here is what you need to know as far as how the State of Texas feels about moving after a divorce when you have children.
The stance that the state of Texas takes on moving after a divorce is that you can do so, but it is the position of the state that your children will be better off having a relationship with both you and their other parent. The presumption that exists is that you make decisions that are in the best interests of your child. As a result, you have been provided with conservatorship, possession and visitation rights in relation to your children.
As you learned during your divorce case, the best interests of your children is what matters most to a judge. Putting your kids in a position where they have a stable, safe and violence-free environment is what matters to a family court judge. Assuming that you are able to meet these qualifications, the court ordered you to continue to have a close relationship with your children. These orders are reflected in how much visitation time you have with your kids as well as the degree to which you have rights to make decisions regarding medical, religious and educational decisions.
How relocation and children can figure into your divorce orders
If you and your spouse agreed in mediation to a resolution of your divorce then one of you was likely named as the joint managing conservator who has the right to determine the primary residence of your children. Joint managing conservators typically share in the parenting responsibilities. You all may even have similar amounts of visitation time with your kids. However, one area where your ex-spouse has an advantage over you, as far as rights are concerned, is that she will be able to have the kids live with her during year.
That is a huge right to possess. Not only does it mean that your ex-spouse will have more time with your kids, but it also means that she is able to dictate where your kids attend school. If your ex-spouse holds these rights where does that put you? Are you forever beholden to her decisions as to where the kids are going to live? Are you going to have to move at the drop of a hat if your ex-spouse decides to move?
The answer to those questions is, thankfully, no. Most final decrees of divorce contain within them a provision known as a geographic restriction. This is especially important for people of our generation who are on the move as much or more than any previous generation. A geographic restriction mandates that your children may reside in a pre-set geographic area. This means that your spouse cannot decide to move every couple months to any far flung location. For a person like you who wants to be a devoted mother or father, this is a very good thing.
Typically, the geographic restriction that is inserted into final decrees of divorce in Texas mandates that your children can reside in the home county (i.e. the county where you got your divorce) as well as any county that is contiguous to the home county. When you think about it, this is really a pretty broad area that your ex-spouse can move with the kids and still be in compliance with the court orders. As it happens, situations do arise that provide cause to want to modify the court orders in relation to moving, parental relocation and the geographic restriction.
Modifying court orders regarding parental relocation, moving and the geographic restriction
The court that granted you the divorce may also modify that court order. There are many, many ways that the final decree of divorce in your case may be modified but probably the most frequently modified orders relate to conservatorship rights, which parent is able to determine the primary residence of your children as well as issues related to the geographic restriction that we just finished discussing.
A court order related to children can be modified under certain circumstances. First, the modification cannot be granted unless the judge determines that it is in the beset interests of your child. So, even if the requested modification makes sense, is practical and would benefit you dramatically it will not be granted unless it would stand to benefit your child and be in their best interests.
The other part of the modification equation that we need to be aware of is that the requested modification must be made in the face of circumstances that have materially and substantially changed for either you, your ex-spouse or one of your children. That change must have occurred since the date that the final decree of divorce was signed by the judge. You cannot base a modification on circumstances that changed prior to the end of your divorce.
In regard to conservatorship rights, the Texas Family Code allows you to come in and modify the final decree of divorce if you can show that the modification is in the best interests of your child and your child (12 years old or older) has requested that he or she be able to live primarily with you rather than your ex-spouse. From my experience as a family law attorney, I can tell you that this is a big reason as to why people plan to file and eventually do file modification cases.
If you plan on filing a modification case within one year of your final decree of divorce being issued then the requirements for your doing so become more stringent. In this situation you would need to attach an affidavit (a sworn statement made under oath) that alleges that your child’s present environment may endanger their physical health or significantly impair their emotional development. In the alternative, a petition to modify conservatorship rights would need to be approved by the primary conservator or that primary conservator would have needed to relinquish custody to you for at least the past six months.
What if you have recently moved to Texas from another country with your family?
Relocation does not just involve Texans moving to other parts of our state or other parts of the United States. Relocation and movement often times involves people moving to Texas from other countries. If you and your family are immigrants to our country and state then you will want to pay attention to the information that we are going to cover in this section of today’s blog post.
Suppose that you and your spouse got a divorce in Texas. The divorce decree called for you and your ex-spouse being named as joint managing conservators of your children. You were named as the parent who has the right to determine the primary residence of your kids. That primary residence was confined to the state of Texas due to a geographic restriction that was included in your final decree of divorce.
Shortly after the divorce was made final, you went back to the court and filed a petition to modify the final decree of divorce. In your modification petition, you asked the judge to lift the geographic restriction so that you could move back home to Argentina with your kids. You had met a man on the internet and intended to marry him. In preparation for the move you had even looked at real estate in South America and have interviewed for new jobs once the move was complete.
The court in a situation like this would likely consider factors like these when determining how to rule. First of all, a simple “pros and cons” analysis would be performed. Why would the move be in the best interests of your kids? Why would the move not be a potentially good fit for your kids as far as their best interests are concerned? Educational, health and other considerations would need to be made. If your children have special needs- physical, emotional or other- those would need to be considered in relation to how best to accommodate those needs.
What impact would the move have on your children’s relation with your ex-spouse and your family in the United States? What sort of relationships do your kids have with your ex-spouse? Does he take advantage of the visitation that he has available to him? Are your former in-laws actively involved in the lives of your children? If the move were allowed to proceed, would your ex-spouse have the ability to move to Argentina as well to be closer to the kids?
This is just the beginning of the analysis for a court in a tricky situation like this. I will continue to go through the factors that your family court would consider before deciding whether to allow a similar move for you and your family in tomorrow’s blog post.
Questions about relocation and post-divorce life in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post please consider contacting the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week here in our office. These consultations are a great opportunity to ask questions and receive feedback from an experienced family law attorney. I hope you have learned something from reading our blog today and look forward to you returning tomorrow.
Our office represents our neighbors in southeast Texas throughout the family law courts of our area. We take pride in providing the sort of effective and professional representation that our community deserves.