The decision to move is a significant one that many families over the past couple of years have had to face. For many reasons it may have come to pass that this same decision was one that you and your family had to come to grips with, as well. The past few years have seen a great deal of change occur in the lives of many of our neighbors. When it comes to making the difficult decision to leave your home in search of a place where you can raise your family and live comfortably there are several challenges to consider. You not only have your day-to-day considerations to think about but also those of your children.
Normally there are a limited number of factors in play when it comes to deciding to move. Many people focus on factors related to their children, their work, their extended family, and things of this nature. However, there may be additional factors relevant in your life that demand some consideration, as well. Your family in their proximity to your new home may be among those important factors. Are your parents getting up there in years and you want them to be closer to your children? Are you getting up there in years and you want to be closer to your children? These are all legitimate concerns as we are hopefully coming out of this pandemic. That may be a major consideration of yours to want to find some stability for yourself and your children.
On top of that, you and your spouse have just gone through a difficult divorce. Or you all may have gone through a child custody case where court orders have been established related to child custody, visitation, and possession. Alongside each of those considerations is often over acquirement that your children live within a certain geographical area. This would be known as a geographic limitation. And when it comes to geographic limitations the purpose is to help your family establish some degree of consistency and stability in their living arrangements. Additionally, geographic limitations seek to help the non-custodial parent be able to ensure that they will have adequate time to spend with their children. Imagine a scenario where the custodial parent can move wherever he or she pleases. That puts a non-custodial parent in a position where he or she must then follow the primary conservator wherever they move.
Geographic restrictions in Texas family law cases
Geographic restrictions are a common attribute of Texas family law cases. Now there is no requirement that geographic restrictions be a part of your case it is common to have I'm restrictions for your children to be able to live in a certain and defined geographic area. That area is maybe as large as a multiple county area or as small as a specific school district. The beauty of a Texas family law case is that you and your Co-parent are given the wherewithal to make those types of decisions for yourselves. There is very little that the two of you or limited from doing if your agreement does not violate any laws in Texas and can be agreed to by the both of you.
A geographic restriction is one way for families to increase stability. For example, if you and your spouse I've just gone through a lengthy divorce or have otherwise seen a great deal of change over your lives in the past few years it may be your desire to begin to take steps that can limit the degree to which you all can move around in the immediate future. As a result, you all may have agreed to a geographic Restriction that allows your children to live in a certain area. If that sounds familiar to you then this is what you all may be facing in terms of you were immediate future under those family court orders.
The geographic restriction protects you if you are a non-custodial parent. However, that protection is double-edged. On the one hand, it prevents your Co-parent from moving with the children whenever the mood strikes him or her. I'm sure you have experienced friends or family having to move at the drop of a hat because a Co-parent of theirs has decided to take the kids and live elsewhere. And an international city like Houston the idea that your Co-parent may decide to live elsewhere can be a truly intimidating proposition given the reality that living elsewhere may include other countries.
When you live under a geographic restriction this means that your Co-parent is prevented from making moves like this. Rather, you can expect that your child will live in that certain geographic area for as long as those court orders are in place. Those court orders would be in place until they are modified formally by a court. That means you all would have had to go through a formal child custody modification where that geographic restriction is either modified or lifted completely. This requires the filing of a petition as well as the signature of a family court judge.
Informally lifting a geographic restriction sometimes, the attorneys with the law officer Brian Fagan will be asked a question regarding whether it is in the child's best interest for you as a parent to agree to not follow a geographic restriction under certain circumstances. For example, your Co-parent may have come to you with the request to be able to move beyond the geographic restricted area to take a new job, move closer to a family member that is ill, or even pursue a romantic relationship. Whatever the reason may be, you can imagine that your Co-parent is serious about it if he or she is willing to set aside their pride and come to you asking would amount to a big favor. This puts you in an interesting position in terms of how you can respond to their request.
Should you consider informally modifying your child custody orders?
I am envisioning a situation where your Co-parent comes to you and asks you if you would consider amending or eliminating the portion of your child custody orders that included geographic restriction. As I was mentioning a moment ago, the reason why that request may have been made could be anything under the sun. Frequently it involves the desire to take a new job, accept a promotion, or even pursue a romantic relationship.
The question that you need to ask yourself is whether doing this would be in the best interest of your children primarily. In other terms, you may want to consider what benefit it has for you personally period last, the benefit to your Co-parent should be considered insofar as it affects your children and you. Remember that child custody orders are not intended to benefit you or your co-parent Rather, your benefits from the orders are merely secondary to the benefit of the order for your children. Would it be in your best interest in the best interests of your children for you to informally terminate a geographic restriction that you had previously agreed to or had ordered by a family court judge?
Probably the first placer I would begin considering this subject is regarding Informal child custody modifications. It is always a risky proposition to informally modify an agreement. Consider that the order from the court would still be in place even in an informal situation. All you and your Co-parent would have agreed to do was to temporarily amend an order based on current circumstances in your lives. But they're not that is something that you wish to do on an ongoing basis is completely up to you and your Co-parent. However, in the case of a geographic restriction, this would likely need to be an ongoing modification.
The reality is that you can't exactly ask your Co-parent for this to be a temporary thing period moving to another state is a big decision to make. The amount of planning that must go into this type of arrangement is considerable. The idea that you can keep this arrangement in place for a month or two based on your wishes is not exactly realistic. Rather, you are probably looking at a situation where you would informally agree to lift the geographic restriction for an extended period. You would need to be extremely comfortable with doing so to make this type of decision.
Truthfully, if it is your Co-parent who wishes to have the geographic restriction lifted it is their risk more than yours when it comes to doing so. Technically speaking, you could choose to enforce the order at any time you want. At that time, he or she would be in no man's land and would be in technical violation of the order if they had already moved. In this way, it can be a dirty trick to play on your end, but you would have the advantage of technically never having violated the order.
If you were to enter an informal modification of this sort it is better to have protection in place that forces your Co-parent to follow their agreement with you beyond merely hoping that their good conscience applies. It can be a nerve-wracking situation to continually hope that your Co-parent will keep their word in an informal modification. It is not a risk that I would personally take but you can consider your circumstances as far as this is concerned.
Joint managing conservatorships and geographic restrictions
In large part, the ability of you or your co-parent to move outside of a certain geographic region as indicated in your court orders is determined by the type of custody arrangement that the two of you have. Most people in Texas operate under what is known as joint managing conservatorships. This means that you and your co-parent would share jointly in the parenting responsibilities held between the two of you. Some of those rights and duties would be held independently, jointly, or exclusively. It is worth reviewing your order to determine where you and your co-parent stand regarding this issue.
Still, other families operate out of a sole managing conservatorship arrangement. If you and your co-parent fall into this category, then one of you will have possession of your child most of the time while making most of the day-to-day decisions for your child. The other parent will have some rights and duties but not nearly as much as under a joint managing conservatorship.
The best interests of the child standard will impact a decision by a court when it comes to modifying or eliminating a geographic restriction. Overall, the idea behind a geographic restriction is that if one exists in your case then neither you nor your co-parent can remove your child outside of that defined area without permission from the court. We see that in most cases the primary address of your child may be mentioned in the court orders. From there, any subsequent moves will need to be in the previously established area.
When attempting to modify a geographic restriction you or your co-parent would need to establish that doing so is both in the best interests of your child and represents a reality that a material and substantial change has occurred in the life of you, your child, or your co-parent. Sometimes you can establish that one of those has occurred, but it is more difficult to prove both concurrently. Living near both parents is presumed to be in the best interests of both your kids. It is an uphill battle to convince a court that it is not your child's best interest to live a great distance from either you or your co-parent.
In a situation where you are a joint managing conservator, the original court order determines where your child can live. If you or your co-parent would like to move out of the state of Texas or specifically out of your geographically restricted area. Remember that there is a significant burden on the parent who wants to move to show that the move is necessary, in the best interests of your child, and is based on a material and substantial change in circumstances. This is not easy to do.
Typically, you would need to file a motion to modify the prior court orders and set your case for a hearing. A hearing would occur but before that, you would have an opportunity to negotiate the case with your co-parent. This would allow the two of you to avoid the possibility of having to go to court it would allow for an opportunity for the both of you to work out a mutually agreeable solution to this problem.
However, the reality is that it is very difficult to imagine a middle ground in a situation where you or your Co-parent need to move out of state. If there is no geographic restriction in place then there will be nothing preventing you from doing so. However, you need to be able to understand that most court orders have geographic restrictions in them. For that reason, you should be prepared to modify the court orders formally by proving that a material and substantial circumstantial change has occurred and that the change you are requesting is in the best interests of your children.
A factor that a judge would look to if you are requesting a move out of state for your work is whether there are comparable jobs here in the Houston area. Fortunately for us, Houston is an area that always seems to have plenty of jobs available in different skill levels and areas of the economy. This is not a factor that would necessarily be in your favor in terms of having your modification request granted. My God in a hearing your Co-parent would also voice their opinion as to why the modification you requested should not be granted. Indeed, it would need to be a very specific and unique circumstance that led to your being able to move out of state.
If your co-parent attempts to move out of state with your children against the court order with the geographical restriction then you can and should act immediately. You can file a motion for an emergency temporary order that would bar him or her from moving out of state period from that from there, you can request a hearing in front of a judge to prevent the move. If you find yourself in this position, you should speak to an experienced family law attorney immediately to address these problems and to see what options you have available to you.
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 about how your family circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.
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- When Can a Minor Child Weigh in on Custody Decisions in Texas?”
- Child Custody Geographic Restrictions in Texas
Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Child Custody Lawyers
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding child custody, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX child custody lawyers right away to protect your rights.
Our child custody lawyers in Houston, TX, are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles child custody cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, Houston, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County, and Waller County.