We would like to begin today's blog posts from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan by telling you a story. This is a story based on an actual client of our law practice from a few years ago. The story begins here in the Houston area. Our client had divorced his wife a few years before he walked through our doors for the first time. The two have been married for about 10 years and had two young daughters together. The divorce had been a difficult one, like most divorces, and the family had settled into a post-divorce life still calling Houston home.
Our client, however, has family in the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex. He would oftentimes go up to Dallas for weekends when he was not with his children to visit family and spend time. Additionally, his job also had him working across Texas and he would be able to spend time in Dallas because of his job. All in all, between his work and his family, live he was finding himself more in North Texas than in Houston.
Given that his children were about to start middle school he had no intention of ever trying to move. This gentleman understood the terms of his final decree of divorce as far as placing a geographic restriction on where the children could live. That geographic restriction would keep the children in Harris, Montgomery, or Fort Bend counties. At no time did he ever consider moving because he knew the children could not. He had visitation rights to the children but was not the primary conservator. As such, the geographic restriction that was in place was intended to help him. new paragraph A geographic restriction allows a court to dictate where the primary residence of a child can be. Families can choose a specific county, group of counties, or even a specific school district for the children to live in primarily.
The parent who has primary custody of the children must also necessarily live in the prescribed geographic region. The other parent would be best served by doing so as well. The reason for this is if you as the non-primary conservator move outside of that geographic region then the chances are good that your Co-parent would do the same. Once the non-primary conservator moves outside of the geographic region then the geographic restriction would no longer apply. The upshot of all of this would be that you would be left trying to follow around your Co-parent every time he or she wanted to move to keep up with your children. This is the exact situation that the Geographic restriction was trying to prevent.
Getting back to the story involving our former client, this gentleman had to decide where he wanted to live. Although he preferred to live in Dallas closer to work for activities and family he was remaining in Houston to stay close to his children. He also understood that violating that geographic restriction would likely mean that his Co-parent would be doing the same soon. This was an undesirable outcome, to say the least, and something that he would try to avoid at all costs. That was until he met a person that he eventually became romantically involved with in Dallas.
As these things tend to go, our client had fallen in love and had wanted to move to Dallas to be closer to his family, his fiancé as well as his fiancé’s family. He believed that it was in his best interest and in the best interests of his children for him to be near family. What's more, he had an outside-the-box way of handling the 200-mile distance between Houston and Dallas that could make visitation and possession easier. Before we go any further here is how the court order of our former client looked. This is important to discuss now because you are about to see to what lengths our client stated he would try to go to have his cake and eat it too in terms of where he would live and how he would also care for his children.
Relocation for marriage can prove difficult if custody orders are in place
This former client of ours had decided to move to Dallas to be closer to his fiancé. The fiancé and our client had rented a home in Houston together and we're splitting their time in both shooting Dallas and Houston. On weekends when our client had his children the couple would be in Houston. However, on all their weekends this gentleman would spend his time in Dallas with his fiancé and their families. Eventually, he determined that moving to Dallas was the better decision for his family, so he made up his mind to move.
this is where his decision to move and the decision to do so Began to run headlong into his court orders. He understood that there was a geographic restriction in his final decree of divorce. This geographic restriction would effectively be lifted once he moved outside of Harris County. For love, he reckoned, it was worth it to take this risk. Not only that, he had a plan in mind when it came to moving to Dallas and how he could maintain a strong relationship with his kids, be closer to family in not put himself in a position where he may wind up having to chase his children around the country if his ex-wife decided to relocate, as well.
This client had a plan that involved utilizing his pilot’s license to his advantage. You see, this gentleman flew planes as a hobby and had done so since he was in college. He would fly planes regularly, and travel places with his family by plane in was an aviation enthusiast. The plan would be for him to rent a small aircraft each weekend that was his period of possession and fly to an airport in Houston to pick up his children. He would then follow the children to Dallas and spend time with them there only to drop them off back in Houston. He had this all planned out in his mind before he ever came to speak to the attorneys with our office.
His plan in wanting to hire our office was to work with his ex-wife to renegotiate the terms of his final decree of divorce. He wasn't altogether foolish in believing that his ex-wife would readily agree to this type of significant change in how custody exchanges occurred. Normally, he lived about 15 minutes from his children, and transportation to and from his home and that of his Co-parent would not be a major issue. However, now that he was moving hundreds of miles away the logistics behind dropping off and picking up his children will become much more difficult.
I was able to meet with this gentleman in his initial consultation with our office. He and his fiancé were both extremely pleasant and upbeat individuals. You could tell that they were optimistic glass half full type of people. He would be ready to take on any challenge on behalf of his children and endure the types of burdens associated with traveling each weekend to this extent. Remind you that there are costs of fueling in renting an airplane that he was having to consider as well. Additionally, there is certainly a risk involved in going up in a small aircraft multiple times each month. However, he felt himself to be an experienced enough pilot, and the wrist to his children to be minimal when compared to the risk of losing a relationship with their father.
Discuss with your Co-parent
the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. What you conceive of in your mind may never actually come to fruition due to the challenges associated with logistics and other constraints. Probably the most significant constraint when it comes to relocating after a divorce or child custody case is having the blessing of your Co-parent. Undoubtedly, this is a point of frustration for many people in your shoes. The reason why you went through the child custody or divorce case in the first place was to no longer must work in tandem with your Co-parent. However, the irony of going through one of these family law cases is that you are ending one relationship and beginning a completely new one. Coparenting with this same person is oftentimes a greater challenge than being married to him or her.
We had asked this gentleman if he had yet spoken with his Co-parent about his desired move. He answered that he had not yet spoken with his Co-parent because he had wanted to run the idea past an attorney before doing so. We spoke to him at length about the challenges associated with his plan. I think that one aspect of the plan that he had not fully considered was that not only did the plan have to work for one weekend, but it had to work for every weekend from now to the point of his children graduating from high school or turning 18. Those were a lot of opportunities for something to go wrong. At the very least, that would mean him missing a weekend with his children. If the weather was bad and he couldn't fly then that will be a missed weekend. Those are memories that he would lose with his children.
At the other end of the spectrum, he had not considered that his Co-parent could potentially file an enforcement case against him for the missed weekends. This would mean losing future weekends and potentially having to pay attorney’s fees, court costs, and other penalties associated with the violation of his court order. All in all, the plan was beginning to seem like more of a challenge than this gentleman had thought of previously. The other attorney and I met with him initially and were not trying to be overly negative. We were only trying to bring up relevant issues that he may want to consider before he attempted to put his plan into motion.
However, he eventually decided that it would be worth it for him to take the risk and file the modification in hopes of having a geographic restriction lifted or at least altered slightly. In truth, he wanted Dallas County and Collin County to be added to the list of counties where the children could reside primarily. This would potentially open the door to him being able to win primary custody of the children in the future. Admittedly, this was his best-case scenario. The more likely scenario would be him settling for something less when it came to the modification.
The difficulty in finding a middle ground in a relocation case is that there truly is no middle ground that could potentially satisfy him and his Co-parent. The children would be in Houston with his Co-parent. He desired to move to Dallas. It wasn't as if the family could meet in the middle and decide to live somewhere together halfway between Houston and Dallas. This would serve the goals of no one and defeat the point of the modification.
As we had previously discussed, this gentleman was in love and believe that he could find happiness in this new relationship and be able to maintain a strong relationship with his children. Eventually, he put his theory to the test and did speak with his Co-parent about the possibility of modification. Unsurprisingly, his Co-parent was not as excited as he was about the idea of him moving to Dallas to remarry. Despite him and his Co-parent not having a great relationship, this gentleman was very close with his children. The children loved to spend time with him and liked that both parents lived close together. A move to Dallas would disrupt this sense of cohesion and would negatively impact the family.
Did the relocation occur?
Ultimately, this gentleman did file a modification case in our office, and was fortunate enough to represent him. After speaking with his family, his Co-parent, and most importantly his children, however, he decided to forgo his plan to move to Dallas permanently. Instead, he and his fiancé purchased a home in the Houston area and moved here permanently. This allowed the child to have more consistency into stability in their personal lives and for them to be able to enjoy time with both sides of their family.
What we were able to modify from the prior court order or some details about possession and custody of the children. We were able to negotiate for a provision of any modified divorce decree where our client would be able to pick up the children in Houston at a local airport and fly them to Dallas once every three months to spend time with the family of his soon-to-be wife. This allowed the extended family in Dallas to be able to see his children on a somewhat regular basis. Frankly, it also allowed him to utilize his flying experience and take to the skies with his children.
What our client realized at the end of the day was that the geographic restriction was in place for a good reason. He understood that lifting that geographic restriction would be a major mistake both now and in the future. Whether it is relocating for marriage, remarriage, or even for a new job opportunity this gentleman came to the belief that it is important to have a plan that can be executed rather than an idea that looks good on paper but is difficult to carry out in real life.
When you attempt to relocate with a court order in place for child custody you need to be 100% certain of what the court orders say. The last thing you want to do is set into motion a relocation plan only to find that some aspects of your court orders are in direct conflict with your real-life plans. The great part of having court orders in place on child custody is that you and your Co-parent can hold one another accountable for violations of your agreement. By the same token, you are not freely able to do whatever you want in terms of determining where you live or when you can see your children. Following a certain schedule in the rules of your court order are extremely important when it comes to this subject. You can be the most creative person in the world when it comes to enacting workarounds for the order but ultimately you need to follow your child custody orders and be willing to communicate with your Co-parent to make it all work effectively.
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 at our three Houston area locations, 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.