A custody agreement is a complex contract that covers a myriad of different parental rights and responsibilities, including all the ins and outs of which parent gets how much time and when. But did you also know it has geographic limitations?
It’s true; now that you have to share custody with your ex, the days of being able to uproot and move wherever you want are definitely over, since your parenting plan likely contains geographic restrictions.
The court is aware of life’s tenancy to throw curve balls at us, though, and they’ve provided a way for you to apply for parental relocation, under certain circumstances. Here’s how that’s done.
What is Parental Relocation?
Texas courts value the parent/child relationship, and they are keenly aware of the stress divorce places on that bond. They have also long upheld that a child’s best interest is served when able to cultivate a relationship with both parents whenever possible. But the challenges of maintaining those connections can become even more daunting, if the distance between parents becomes too stretched.
Hence, geographic restrictions are imposed to lessen travel burdens on parents, and make it as easy as possible for a child to keep close to both.
What Are the Geographic Restrictions in Texas?
Unless your parenting plan specifies something different, your Texas custody agreement likely states that you must stay in your original county, and any of the counties that immediately border it.
So, for example, residents of Denton county would be allowed to move anywhere in Cooke, Grayson, Collin, Dallas, Tarrant, and Wise counties without permission. Anywhere beyond that, though, and you’d likely need the permission of the child’s other parent, and explicit authorization from the court—even if you are the custodial parent.
Restrictions Aren’t (Technically) Mandatory
That being said, while restrictions are not automatically applied, all it takes is for one side to request them, for them to be added. And you can bet that any attorney worth their salt is going to make sure you voice that request.
Restrictions Apply Only to the Child
In Texas, geographic restrictions apply only to the child (and, by extension, the custodial parent, as well).
Because they don’t make decisions about the child’s living arrangements, non-custodial parents are free to move outside the boundaries, at-will. The only catch is: your visitation schedule probably won’t be enforceable, if you do.
Not only that, but in Texas, most orders contain specific language which lifts geographic restrictions, in the event that the non-custodial parent chooses to live elsewhere. Meaning, that your ex would have free reign to take your child and relocate as far away as they want, without violating custody.
Hence, non-custodial parents should be wary of moving outside the boundaries without formally requesting relocation from the court.
How Do I Petition for Parental Relocation?
Parental relocation is, at its core, nothing more than a very specific type of custody modification. Hence, the process to petition the court for one is essentially the same as if you wanted to modify visitation, child support, or anything else in your custody agreement. This can be done of two ways:
- The parents voluntarily agree to modify relocation boundaries; or,
- Parents do not agree, but the court believes there is compelling evidence to lift the restrictions, anyway, based on the child’s best interest.
Naturally, it’s easier on everyone if parents can agree without going to court. Either way, however, you will need judicial authorization, before the changes are enforceable. Until then, you must abide by the terms of the original order.
When Does the Court Grant Parental Relocation?
Increased distance can have a serious impact on a child’s ability to cultivate a relationship with their other parent. The court takes this alienation seriously, and, as a result, will only grant relocation requests if they’re in the child’s best interest. The problem is, it can sometimes be tough to know what that is.
To find answers, the court will consider many different aspects of your situation, including:
- The reasons for your move;
- The burden it would place on the non-custodial parent;
- How close the child and non-custodial parent are;
- Whether the non-custodial parent even wants a relationship;
- The child’s psychological, medical, and educational needs;
- Whether or not you have a reliable support system in the new location; and even,
- The child’s preference (if they are over twelve years old).
Considering the Texas Family Code expressly states how important it is to allow both parents access to their child, relocation modification isn’t an easy bar to clear.
Here are some of the more common scenarios we see at Neal Ashmore.
A job transfer is one of the most common reasons driving Texas relocation requests. In the past, courts have noted the obvious benefits a child would receive from their parent having an increase of income, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be a guaranteed yes.
Some of the questions they might ask in these situations include whether or not the transfer was voluntary, the custodial parent’s previous connection to the location, and what kind of impact it would have on the non-custodial parent/child relationship.
Wanting to Live Closer to Family
Another common scenario is wanting to be closer to family.
Listen, we get it. Single parenting is tough, and the advantages of living closer to your support system is a valid argument that courts routinely consider.
Here, a judge would likely consider the child’s relationship with the family members in question, what emotional impact it would have on the child to move from the current area, and even whether there was another driving motivator behind the request, such as the death of a loved one or an ill family member.
As a general rule, service women and men do not need to fear geographic restrictions in the face of military transfer. This is especially true if you were already a member of the armed forces prior to divorce, in which case your current order likely already makes an exception for these things.
If the military is a new career path, your case may not be as cut and dry. However, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (which protects service members from being sued during active duty), does contain specific language that prohibits courts from citing deployment as a reason to deny custody. So, there may still be a strong argument to be made, here.
While not as common, questions about international relocation do occasionally arise, and they can be tricky to navigate.
One would hope that—in the case of both parents being from a different country—the question of international ties would have been thoroughly covered in original custody discussions, as international relocation suits have a steep path to victory.
While custody technically falls under state jurisdiction, Texas courts follow the edicts laid down by the federal Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). This law states that custody disputes between Texas and another state (or country) will be governed by the child’s home state.
This means that if your original custody order was issued in Texas, then it is Texas—not the other country—that has jurisdiction over all modifications. And considering the hardships an international move would place on a non-custodial parent, arguments in favor of relocation would have to be pretty darn compelling for the court to allow it.
Parental Relocation Attorneys in Texas
Unfortunately, there’s no standard formula you can apply to parental relocation. Every case is different, which means every outcome will be different, too. For more questions about how that outcome might look in your situation, Neal Ashmore wants to hear from you. Call us today at (972) 436-8000, or schedule a consultation online, and let us help you find the arrangement that’s best for your family.