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Relocation with a child whose other parent has minimal visitation

After a child custody or divorce case, your family will have a unique possession schedule that it will follow when it comes to possession, access, and visitation with your children. Every family follows its circumstances so that relate to your family's ability to spend time with children under the age of 18. Even if you're family utilizes something close to a standard possession order, there will likely be components to your possession schedule that look different compared to another family that utilizes the same type of order based on the Texas family code. 

In some circumstances, you or your Co-parent may have minimal visitation with your children for several different reasons. Those reasons could be related to the physical distance between you and your children after a move following the divorce, drug or alcohol use are you or your Co-parent, or any other circumstance that may lead to it being determined that more visitation with that parent is not in the best interest of your children. As such, we can focus our attention on what limited visitation with children may mean for you or your Co-parent if one of you decides to relocate after the divorce or child custody case.

Relocation after a divorce or child custody case is a big decision. So many of your court orders are based upon you and your children living within proximity to one another. When you or your Co-parent decide to move away from Houston that means that you all are making a conscious decision to change your circumstances which makes adhering to those custody orders much more difficult. As such, you and your Co-parent need to think about the decision that you are making and whether it is a good choice considering the limitations that are put on you all when it comes to the building of relationships with the kids.

When a person comes into the Law Office of Bryan Fagan with a question about visitation and possible relocation issues, he or she will oftentimes do so with the explanation that they have no choice in the matter in that uh move is necessary. This is an area that I would certainly challenge you on before you come into an attorney's office and make this kind of pronouncement. In many cases, you do have a choice when it comes to moving and changing the nature of your visitation and possession with your children. It may not seem like it at the time but almost all of us have options when it comes to relocation. All it takes is slowing down to understand what those options are.

Probably the most common reason why people believe that they have no options but to move after a divorce or child custody case has to do with employment. If your employer, for example, decides to move your job to another city or another state then you may feel like you have no choice but to follow the job and move. While there is nothing wrong with moving and you may find the new place that you live to be a fulfilling change in your life that still does not mean that you will not suffer to one extent or another from not being near your children any longer. 

As a result, it may be that moving to follow a job is not only not in the best interests of your children but not in your best interest, either. Rather, you may find that it would be better to look for new employment in this area instead of following a job. Many times, people in your shoes can find more preferable employment locally rather than follow a job but they know across the country. It can be stressful to leave a job that you have had for some time but in this era of job change, it is certainly not uncommon for people to find themselves looking for new employment as their circumstances dictate. Career counselors and other job placement professionals can assist you in a transition time if it becomes obvious to you that relocating after a child custody or divorce case is not in your best interests.

When it comes to relocation after a divorce or child custody case it is also important for you and your Co-parent to be honest and clear with one another about what you are considering and what that will mean to your family. You are not in a position where you can simply ignore your Co-parent when it comes to there are concerns or thoughts on the subject. As much as it might bother you to realize it, your Co-parent can and should have a say in two relocation matters. It doesn't matter if you are attempting to relocate for a job, to be closer to your extended family, or even for a new romantic interest. Your primary concern should be and likely is your children period to relocate to a new place means to consider your children first and foremost. 

This is where the decision to move hinges. Can you make the visitation work from an extended distance? Many parents immediately after a divorce or child custody case will find that facilitating possession and visitation schedules is difficult enough when you live close to your children. Now that you are in the process of deciding to move a greater distance from your children you need to be honest about how the logistics will work with your children and whether or not you will even be able to see your children as regularly as you would like. 

Many parents come to the Law Office of Bryan Fagan with grand ideas about how extended distance visitation will work between them and their children. You may have stayed up for many nights conceiving just how visitation can work and how some combination of automobile and airline travel will allow you in your Co-parent to coordinate visitation and not cause any hiccups in the time that you have with your children. While I do not doubt that you have been diligent about the planning, the reality of managing these types of visitation circumstances can be quite difficult. Oftentimes you will find that what you plan out in your mind is much more difficult to accomplish.

Preferably, your decision to make a long-distance move from Houston would be something to consider at the beginning of your divorce case rather than after the case has already come to an end. The reason I say this is that it is better to negotiate with your move in mind rather than to negotiate your child custody orders during a case and then move once the case comes to an end. What you are left with our changing circumstances that your final decree of divorce or child custody orders do not reflect. The possession and visitation orders will no longer be workable and do not suit your family. 

That puts you and your Co-parent in a tricky spot. You can agree to move forward under a handshake-type agreement between you and your Co-parent and you all will work on informal and modified child custody orders while you figure out your circumstances with moving. In this way, the child custody orders that you have in your court order would not be followed explicitly and rather the two of you would coordinate visitation on your own with an understanding that you all are going to follow your agreements as closely as possible. 

For many people, this seems to work out just fine. If you and your Co-parent have a good working relationship and can be civil with one another and oftentimes these types of verbal agreements tend to work out just fine. What I would recommend is for families in this position to put everything that they can in writing and make sure that the lines of communication are open. No matter how diligent and detailed you all are when it comes to creating these types of orders it is almost impossible to think of everything and have it included.

On the other hand, the idea of working with your Co-parent informally to modify child custody orders may be the least appealing thought in the world. This happens in a lot of situations where you and your Co-parent do not have a great working relationship and are not able to work together in any way shape or form. Think about if you just came out of a messy child custody or divorce case. In that situation, you may not be able to work with your Co-parent at all even if you wanted to. In that case, trusting your Co-parent to work with you on informally modifying a child custody order may be extremely unappealing. Not having that level of trust together can stop the informal modification process before it even begins.

At the very least, you and your Co-parent need to be able to discuss your intention to move or relocate. A relocation, especially a long-distance relocation, it's not something that you can expect to hide from your Co-parent. Rather, this is something that the two of you will need to be able to work through and discuss if you ever expect to be able to make that move a reality. The situation comes down to your finances, the willingness of your Co-parent to work with you on the relocation in the ability of your children to be flexible and supportive of the move. If you find yourself in a situation where your children are not great at dealing with change or are otherwise unable to manage traveling a long distance to see you then the relocation may be dead in the water before you and your Co-parent can even begin to discuss it. 

However, by discussing the situation with your Co-parent you can learn their thoughts early on and decide if you all are going to be able to work together to agree either on creating an initial child custody order that reflects the relocation or discussing a potential modification if the relocation decision is made after your child custody or divorce case comes to a close.

What does visitation look like for families who live a long distance apart?

Many families who do not live close together choose to alter a standard possession order to allow for visitation and possession to occur with minimal hiccups and interruptions. For instance, instead of having weekend possession on the first, third, and fifth weekends of each month, you may have possession on one weekend per month of your choosing, so long as you provide notice to your co-parent of the weekend that you will be selecting. 

Travel costs are another factor that should be discussed during figuring out how to facilitate long-distance visitation and possession. Many times, the parents of children in your position will choose to divide the costs up 50/50 so that neither parent bears the entire burden of paying for airline costs. Or you may choose to always come back to Houston and would therefore pay for visitation costs yourself. In that situation, the main cost could be renting a hotel room or Airbnb to host you and your children for the weekend that you are in Houston seeing them each month. 

What I would caution you on before you start to think about it, is to press pause on possession schedules that rely on difficult-to-manage travel logistics. My favorite example of complicated travel arrangements has to do with a father who moved to Dallas from Houston shortly after his divorce to be closer to a new love interest. It just so happened that this father also had a pilot's license and was interested in facilitating visitation with that pilot's license. He planned to rent a small airplane each weekend, fly from Dallas to Houston, and pick up his kids at a commuter airport. This would occur not once a month but up to three times a month. 

He had created a very complicated and logistically difficult plan associated with visitation that involved traveling to Houston on the first, third, and fifth weekends of each month to see his children. He had a standard possession order in his final decree of divorce, and he was bound and determined to maintain that level of contact with his kids. This was a man who loved his kids and was willing to pay the costs associated with living a great distance from them to maximize his time with them. 

Our office represented this father after his divorce. He was attempting to modify the divorce decree to allow for him to move to Dallas permanently. At that point, he and his fiancé were living in both Dallas and Houston. He wanted to be able to move to Dallas permanently to be closer to his fiancé’s family. His solution for facilitating the possession schedule was to fly back and forth each month to make sure that visitation worked out. The Thursday dinner visit would be eliminated but the other weekend and holiday visitation could easily work, he told us, if he would be allowed to fly with his children to and from Dallas each weekend of possession. 

The level of creativity of this man was outstanding. However, when he filed the modification case it became clear that he had not discussed his potential move with his co-parent. She was taken aback by the suggestion. The first she heard of the desire to move to Dallas was in the court filings that he served on her. She did not take well to the suggestion and instead wanted to completely modify the child custody orders to allow for less frequent visits between our client and the children as well as an increase in child support to reflect the greater amount of time that she would have the kids during the month. 

Ultimately, the client’s desired move did not occur. He decided to stay in Houston rather than risk losing time with his kids. Remember that any change to a custody order would need to be in the best interests of the children and not just one parent or the other. Once we got this gentleman to understand this it was time to negotiate rather than push for a move to Dallas. Sometimes it happens that you enter a family case with one goal in mind and then that changes due to a host of circumstances. Come and speak with one of our attorneys to learn more about your case.

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 at our three Houston area locations, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family's circumstances may be impacted by a divorce or child custody case. 

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