Harry met Sally, fell in love, got married, and had, by all accounts, two adorable children. Then things slowly deteriorated and Harry and Sally ended up slogging through a bitter divorce. Custody was resolved with Sally having primary custody of the children and Harry having liberal visitation. It was not perfect, but since they both lived in the same suburb, it seemed reasonable at the time. That is until Sally remarried and her new husband got a new job 800 miles away. It happens quite often and quite often it involves a trip back to court.
And it happened to Antonio and Sylvia in a case, Arredondo v. Betancourt, that was ultimately decided by the Texas appellate court. Married in January of 2001, and a son was born several months later. The marriage lasted less than two years and the couple divorced. Both were made joint managing conservators of the child with Sylvia being given the exclusive right to determine the primary residence of the child. No restrictions were placed on any location. Antonio was granted alternative periods of possession of the child if Sylvia moved more than 100 miles away from where Antonio lived.
Sylvia remarried; after that the facts are subject to some dispute. But what was not disputed is that Sylvia ended up with the child and her new husband in Mexico and Antonio filed a petition to modify the decree to grant him the exclusive right to determine where the child would reside.
In order to succeed, Antonio had to establish a change in circumstances. Sylvia took the position that the original decree gave her unfettered discretion and placed no limitations on her ability to determine the primary residence of the child. The appeals court, in the case named Arredondo v. Betancourt, rejected Sylvia’s position and held that any finding of changed circumstances is case-specific and fact-intensive and when a parent moves a child a significant distance, a finding of changed circumstances may be warranted. The court outlined a number of facts to be considered in whether such a finding is warranted: among them, the distance involved, the quality of the relationship between the non-custodial parent and the child, the impact the move would have on the non-custodial patent’s ability to have regular and meaningful contacts with the child, the motives of the parties, and the accessibly of safe travel to the child.
The court ultimately decided that Antonio had met his burden of showing a changed circumstance based on the evidence and the facts presented.
The issues in a “move-away case” can be difficult and every case will undoubtedly be different since the facts will be unique to the parties and their lives. The representation of an experienced Texas family law lawyer is essential.