Deciding to move your family from one location to another is one that presents significant change for you and your children. The planning associated with the movie can be frustrating even if the movie itself is for something positive or good. Logistically, moving never seems to occur at a good spot in your life. There are always obstacles to overcome regarding getting everyone acclimated to the new environment, making sure that your belongings make it to the new home in one piece, and things of that nature.
One of the interesting aspects of this pandemic has been how many families have chosen to relocate as a result of the changes in their family, job loss, or job gain in a range of other topics related to COVID-19. You may find yourself considering a move if for no other reason than your home is much more valuable now than it was 16 months ago. As a result, the decision to move may be an attractive one for no other reason than he will be able to experience abettor circumstance financially because you can make a profit off the sale of your home due to its increase in value.
These are all worthwhile topics to discuss when it comes to considering why it move may or may not be in your best interest or that of your family. Certainly, there are usually many factors in play for a family when deciding whether or not to move is for the best and would benefit your family more so than remaining where you are. These are all decisions that your family must make while deciding what to do in whether or not to make the move from where you are currently.
If these issues aren’t enough for you and your family to contemplate the reality is that you may be also going through a divorce or child custody case currently. That, or, you may have recently gone through a family law case of some sort and are now living under court orders for the first time in your life. The immediate aftermath of a family law case can be somewhat jarring on a family because you are now having to abide by a set of rules that you did not create yourself. Notably, your ability to live where you want may be impacted by these court orders.
This is the backdrop that I would like to base our discussion in today’s blog post off of. You may be watching friends, family and others sell their homes and move for various reasons across our city, state, and country. My opinion is that the next 18 months are going to be extremely interesting in terms of seeing where people end up from a living perspective. We had to undergo so much change in such a short amount of time that it would be inevitable that living situations for folks just like you and I may necessarily change as well.
With that said, how does your willingness and desire to move to interact with the realities of your family law case? Do you have the same degree of autonomy over your life as you did previously or are you in a position now where you may have to tap the brakes on a potential move for any various reason related to your feeling on the case? That is what I would like to discuss with you today in today’s blog post. Namely, if you wanted to move your family what were the first steps in that process look like either during or after a family law case?
Is anything preventing you from moving?
This may sound like a silly question to ask but in my opinion, you should consider whether or not anything is preventing you from moving in the 1st place. You may assume that there is some aspect of your court order that prevents you from moving when in fact there is not. Typically, either during or after a divorce, there are only prohibitions against you moving if you have children that are under the age of 18. In that case, there may be a geographic restriction in place that keeps you and your family living in a certain area. Let’s examine what a geographic restriction is and how it can impact your decision whether or not to move.
A geographic restriction is a tool in the world of family law that can be used to help a nonprimary parent retain some degree of control over their ability to spend time with their children. In a divorce, typically one parent is named as the parent who can designate the primary residence of the child in the other parent ends up with Visitation rights. If you are a parent with Visitation rights then your children likely see you on many weekends throughout the school year as well as during Holidays and breaks from class.
Otherwise, your children spend the rest of the year with your ex-spouse. A geographic restriction can be negotiated upon by you and your spouse or ordered by a family court judge after a trial. The geographic restriction restricts your spouse’s ability to move with your children beyond a certain geographic area. As with many elements of a family law case, the specifics of your family’s geographic restriction may be much different than other people. That is due in large part to the fact that your family circumstances are unique to you and your family and you all may have determined that unique orders regarding the used super geographic restriction are necessary.
A fairly standard geographic restriction that is put in place for a family with young children involves the primary conservator not being able to move beyond their home County in any County that borders their home County. For example, this would mean that a Houston family would not be able to move outside of Harris County or any County that borders Harris County. This provides a family with some degree of latitude in terms of where they’re going to live but would not force you as the nonprimary parent to have to chase your ex-spouse around the country if he or she chose to move with great frequency.
To prevent the primary conservator from moving at the drop of a hat can be agreed to the geographic restriction goes in place to limit the distance a family can move during a child’s formative years. Geographic restrictions do not have to be part of a divorce with children but oftentimes are. Hopefully, you and your attorney discussed the possibility of having a geographic restriction be part of your case before agreeing to it in mediation.
While this does not occur all that frequently, it is possible for you as the nonprimary parent to be the person who breaks the geographic restriction. For instance, let’s suppose that as the nonprimary parent you did have a geographic restriction in your divorce orders. However, after your divorce, you were offered a new job in another state. While it is true that the terms of the geographic restriction did not apply to you specifically your decision to move outside the geographic area stated in your divorce decree has important implications for the survival of that restriction. Notably, if you decided to move beyond the borders of your geographic area then the geographic restriction would no longer apply to your Co-parent.
What does this mean on a practical level? Well, if you decided to move beyond the geographic area where your children are restricted to living then the geographic restriction no longer applies to your Co-parent. That would mean that he or she could also choose to move away from the geographically restricted area with your children. Theoretically, if you took a job working in Arkansas then your children and Co-parent would no longer be limited to living only in Harris or one of its contiguous counties.
Your Co-parent could choose to move with your children anywhere he or she would like. That means that because you moved you may risk opening up Pandora’s box of possibilities in terms of where your children may end up living. This has far-reaching implications for your family and for your ability to parent your children. Therefore, you need to ask yourself a series of questions if you are a nonprimary parent who is wanting to move beyond the restricted area set forth for your children in the final decree of divorce.
First, I would recommend thinking long and hard about whether or not the move you intend to make is not only necessary but potentially beneficial for your children. Many times the desire to move a ways away from your home here in Houston is brought about by a new job or a new love interest. While I will not argue that either of those sources is potential sources of gratification for you the key to this discussion is to what extent moving a long way away from your children will stand to benefit your kids.
In my experience, it is difficult to justify a move based on these sorts of considerations. It would seem to me that you may be setting yourself up for subsequent issues in family court if you choose to move a great distance from your geographically restricted area. First of all, you will likely find that if your Co-parent chooses to move that the Texas courts will lose jurisdiction over your case. So, you will end up having to face the consequences of needing to travel a long way for your next family court appearance, potentially.
The other aspect of this discussion is that choosing to move a great distance from your children for a job or a love interest is not especially impressive to family court judges. I have seen parents try to make arguments at a new job and greater pay will increase opportunities for children in many ways. I’m sure this is true. However, the reality of the situation is that your relationship with your children will suffer given that you will likely see them much less now than he did before. This is not a good starting point if in the future you are trying to argue that you need to be named as the parent with the primary right 2 make decisions for the kids.
So, if you find yourself wanting to move as we emerge out of the pandemic I will be doing so despite a geographic restriction you need to think long and hard about not only the short term implications of your decision but where it puts you and your children’s relationship in the future.
The decision to move when you are the primary conservator of children
On the other hand, you may be approaching this subject as a parent who is the primary conservator of your children. This is a great deal of responsibility to bear for your family and you are likely accustomed to making difficult decisions on behalf of your kids. Additionally, since the time of your divorce, you have likely encountered a range of circumstances in which you and your Co-parent have not seen the eye to eye when it comes to raising your children.
Not seeing eye to eye with your Co-parent is one thing. Deciding to potentially move your children a great distance from there your parent is another matter altogether. To be sure, the geographic restriction exists in large part to prevent you from doing just this sort of thing. It is not often that a nonprimary conservator will agree to waive the geographic restriction once it has been negotiated for in the divorce. We just spent a great deal of time discussing how the geographic restriction stands primarily to serve the best interests of the children and the nonprimary conservator.
However, that he find yourself in a position where you are wanting to move beyond the geographic restricted area contained in your final orders then this discussion goes from being a theoretical one 21 having practical implications for you, your children, and your Co-parent. While it is difficult to accomplish, you can file a motion to modify your final decree of divorce and seeking to lift the geographic restriction. Let’s close out today’s blog post by discussing how that process may look for you and your family.
You need to be able to show that there has been a material and substantial change in your circumstances since the time of your divorce to justify a modification of any sort. That material and substantial change may have been seen in the life of you, your children, or your Co-parent. Additionally, it could not have been a change that was foreseeable at the time of your final decree of divorce. If it was, it would be likely true that you could have negotiated for the change you wanted at that time. Therefore, any subsequent modification would not have needed to be filed.
Therefore, what you are needing to figure out is whether or not the reason for your move would be classified as material in a substantial change in the eyes of a judge. Moving for one of your children to be closer to a world-renowned Cancer Center to treat a new illness your child has developed would appear to be an example of a material and substantial change that justified lifting the geographic restriction. Even then, however, living in the Houston area means that you have access to some of the best doctors in the world. Therefore, what may be a material and substantial change for others may not be for you and your family.
Even if you can prove that a material and substantial change has occurred in your life, your children’s lives, or in the life of your Co-parent you would still need to be able to show that the material and substantial change coincides with a decision to move that is in the best interest of your children. Very rarely do courts make decisions that would hinder a parent’s ability to have a relationship with their children. If you are asking a court to allow you to move across the country for any reason then it may be difficult to prove that the decision is in the best interests of your child even if it is in your best interests.
Either way, if you find yourself wanting to move the first thing you ought to do is meet with an experienced family law attorney. Working out handshake agreements with your Co-parent when it comes to moving or geographic restrictions can be tenuous at best. You do not want to put yourself in a position where you make all the plans to move based on a handshake agreement with your Co-parent going to find that he or she will go back on your handshake agreement at a later date. That puts you in a precarious position where you may need to defend yourself in a future enforcement case. Meeting with an experienced family law attorney can help you prepare a potential case and determine whether or not moving is even feasible after a divorce or child custody case in Texas.
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 consultation six days a week in person, 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.