Think Before You Move: Divorce and Relocation

Once the dust clears after a divorce, the prospect of starting over in a new place can seem pretty appealing. But child custody issues can cloud the pathway out of town, especially in Texas.

In basic divorce cases with to two able parents, Texas courts generally award divorcing parents “joint managing conservatorship.” That means both parents share rights and responsibilities for making important decisions about their children’s life — including where they live. The court considers many factors in determining the best interests of the child, but typically, the judge will establish a geographic area within which the parents must reside in order to comply with the visitation schedule. The parties can always come to an agreement on a geographic limitation and have it included as part of the divorce decree. Once the judge decides or the parties agree and the decree is signed by the court, moving outside that area requires a court order in the form of a modification suit.

If you have a court order allowing the move, you still have to give the other parent notice — and he or she can apply for a temporary restraining order and may be able to prevent you from moving until after a hearing. Generally, a temporary restraining order action will be coupled with a petition for modification.

Removing a geographic limitation can be challenging. It requires the filing of a modification suit that clearly shows the presence of a material and substantial change in circumstances since the date of the last order. Likely, the parent wishing to move will want to demonstrate a compelling reason, such as a career opportunity or a need to be close to family that will help care for the child. Certainly, if the judge finds that you are moving to disrupt your ex’s relationship with the child, you won’t be allowed to move.

The good news for parents wishing to relocate is that Texas courts have moved away from a presumption against relocation toward a more balanced consideration. The population as a whole is more mobile and communication is fast, simple, and inexpensive. The nature of relationships has changed as well; children can have frequent contact with both parents regardless of where they live.

If you’re planning to move — or want to oppose a proposed move — you’ll want to meet with your family attorney to make sure you’ve thought through the decision and are ready to explain your reasoning to the other parent and the court. A willingness to be open with your ex goes a long way toward an agreement that will work for all concerned.

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