If you are a parent who is trying to prevent an ex-spouse from lifting a geographic restriction in your Texas family law case, then today’s blog post is for you. The information that we are going to share with you all today is focused on that exact subject. I would like you to be aware that even in trying and difficult times, you can plan for your case and avoid potentially harmful things from occurring to your children. Here are some of the factors that you will want to emphasize in your case to a judge.
First, your relationship to your child needs to be the most important thing that is emphasized in your case. Remember- the state of Texas agrees with you that it is in your child’s best interest that he or she have an ongoing relationship with both of their parents. Showing a judge that your ex-spouse is basically trying to end your relationship with your child in order to allow a long distance move can be a very effective argument. Involvement in your child’s school activities, sports, religious upbringing and family life will almost always make up the foundation to a success case defending against the lifting of a geographic location.
Second, you will then hone in on specific parts of your relationship to your children. Are you thee dad who comes home from work and immediately sits down with the kids to get their schoolwork taken care of before dinner? What about the busy executive who makes every effort in the world to be able to see your child’s tennis matches? Do you teach Sunday school at church and involve your kids in religious activities? These are the sort of concrete examples of parental engagement that I had in mind.
Specifically, what impact do you believe that the hypothetical move with have on you and your child. If your ex-spouse plans to move with the kids to a town twenty miles from yours, you would not be in the same league as a parent who risks seeing their child move halfway around the globe. With Houston being an international city, it is not out of the realm of possibility that your ex-spouse may want to move with your kids back home to Africa, Asia or Europe. Be specific about what problems you think you and your children will encounter if the geographic restriction is lifted.
Is your ex-spouse moving to do what’s best for the kids or themselves?
Many parents will seek to move their children to a new location by having a geographic restriction lifted. The cause for that move will often times be the desire to be closer to a new love interest. Your ex-spouse may even have begun dating and is now in the process of marrying their new partner. This can have a profound impact on your relationship to your child if your ex-spouse wishes to lift a geographic restriction in order to be closer in proximity to the home of their significant other.
Remember that the purpose of the move must be in the best interests of your child and must be allowable due to a substantial change in circumstances. Both of these conditions must be met. Just because something is really good for your ex-spouse does not automatically make it so for your children, as well. You should take the time to figure out how a move may be more related to your ex-spouse’s romantic pursuits than for any particular benefit for your kids.
Work, work, work
Another common argument as to why a geographic restriction needs to be lifted is that a parent cannot find work and must leave the area to do so. I think that is a particularly flimsy argument given the area of the country that we live in. Southeast Texas has about as diverse an economy as any area in the country and as such, if you cannot find a job here there is little reason to believe that you will be able to do so, elsewhere.
However, it does happen that parents file modification cases in order to have geographic restrictions lifted in order to move elsewhere for work. Maybe what your ex-spouse wants is more stability with a job. Or maybe a better commute time sounds nice given the sometimes horrendous Houston traffic. Whatever the reason, it would serve you well if you do not want that geographic restriction lifted to point out and question your ex-spouse about the efforts he or she has gone through to find work in this area. That should be the first step taken- not the last. The geographic restriction was set up for a reason and should not be lifted absent a substantial change in circumstances not present at the time that the order was created.
Could you also make a move with your child?
I don’t mean to say that you would move along with your child and your ex-spouse into a new residence. What I do mean to ask is whether or not you considered moving to the new location where your child would be headed? Would the costs of a move be too much for you? Again, a move down the road is not comparable to a move across the country. It is reasonable that you would not have the wherewithal to pick up and go at a moment’s notice any place that your ex-spouse intends to move.
On the other hand, if a move could potentially benefit you and you do not consider it, that could be points against you. Our out principle, pride or fear (or a combination of any of these factors) you may want to remain in the area where you are right now. You keep telling yourself that you have a geographic restriction in place and that nothing can force you to leave. That may be true on some level, but if meritorious attempt to lift that restriction comes before the court it may be the case that you are parent who is under the microscope.
What connections do you have with the new area?
Did you and your ex-spouse meet and begin dating in another area of Texas than you live in now? What about another state or even another country? If you met, married and had children elsewhere before moving to Texas then that will be a factor to consider if your ex-spouse is now attempting to get a geographic restriction lifted. You need to be aware that if you have past contacts with this area then that would likely be seen as a positive by a judge. Having childcare available, a support system and contacts in the area to help you find work would be pluses.
On the other hand, your ex-spouse may be wanting to move to an area where you have no history and no contacts. Asking you to start over is something that many judges will be unwilling to do under most circumstances. If the area is far away to the point where any visitation awarded in the modification would be eaten up by travel time, then you would essentially be forced to move to the new area in order to have any relationship with your child.
This lack of contacts with the proposed area could hurt your ex-spouse’s case a significant amount. Children rely on stability and consistency in their home environments to develop a sense of self. If your child currently has that at home in your area and would need to redevelop that in a new area then this would not be a strong suit of your ex-spouse’s case to have that geographic restriction lifted.
Question the motive behind the move
Was your divorce amicable or messy? Does your ex-spouse resent you for remarrying or starting a new relationship? If so, then he or she may be looking for a reason to hurt you. Unfortunately it is often the case that your child is the easiest and most effective tool to potentially do this. Trying to move with your child to a far away location, or at least scaring you into thinking that this type of move may be upcoming, is not out of the question.
The motive behind the move needs to be examined. Often times families have legitimate reasons for wanting to have a geographic restriction lifted. Other times the proposed lifting of the geographic restriction has more to do with petty squabbles between parents. If you suspect that yours involves an ex-spouse who is trying to be vindictive towards you then you should let your attorney know. There needs to be a legitimate reason (at the very least) that is used to justify the lifting of a geographic restriction.
How well will your children handle the move to a new location?
There is going to be stress associated with a move of any kind. You probably went through some stress moving out of the house during your divorce. Your kids may have had to move multiple times since the start of your divorce. Whatever your specific situation you need to know that your kids are resilient, no matter what happens. It is not a foregone conclusion that your children will be harmed by a move.
However, that doesn’t mean that your ex-spouse can utilize any flimsy rationale to justify a move and a lifting of a geographic restriction. If your children are particularly hostile to change- if they have emotional or behavioral problems that are exacerbated by moving- then that is a factor that you should look to. It may not be a bad idea (if you can afford it) to motion the judge to have a study done of your children by a counselor or therapist. A professional can interview your kids to determine what impact the move is already having and what could happen if the move were allowed to occur.
Keep in mind that your children will be moving to a new school, will need to find new friends and will have a whole new set of circumstances to settle into during the move. I cannot imagine how difficult this would be for most kids. If you believe that your children are vulnerable to these sort of stresses in particular then you need to do what it takes to get this evidence before a judge. You can rely on past experiences moving to inform the judge of what would likely happen if a new move were allowed by the court.
Figure out who the move is really for- and then hammer on that
Judges do not want to allow moves just to placate a parent. If the move is more about your ex-spouse than it is about your child then that should be an important prong of your case. Remember the geographic restriction being lifted means that the judge must have found that doing so is justified due to a substantial change in the circumstances of a party to the case or to your children. On top of that, the modification will only be allowed if found to be in the best interests of your kids. This is not an easy hurdle to leap over. Your best bet is to be prepared to present evidence that counters both elements of the case. Fortunately, you are an active and engaged parent who knows your child better than anyone. Use that to your advantage in attempting to keep the geographic restriction in place.
What can a court do in response to a motion to modify a divorce decree? Read tomorrow’s blog post
We will complete our series of blog posts on the lifting of geographic restrictions by focusing on what a court can do in response to a petition to modify a divorce decree.
In the meantime if you have any questions about the material that we shared with you today then please contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week where we can answer your questions and address your concerns directly.