Texas family courts encourage parents to share in the rights and duties of raising their children, even after the parents have separated. It’s the public policy of the State of Texas to ensure that children will have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of their children.
Sometimes, however, the child custody and visitation arrangements agreed upon when a couple divorce or separate are not suitable because of a work relocation or job offer in another state or country.
The majority of orders in suits affecting the parent-child relationship include a provision restricting the child’s residence to a specified geographic area, whether the order is from a divorce, a suit to determine parentage, a modification or another suit affecting the parent-child relationship.
Most often, the child’s residence is restricted to the county of the court rendering the order or any county contiguous to that county; however, the court has the discretion to make the geographic area either more restrictive (such as within a particular school district), less restrictive (such as within the State of Texas) or not to restrict the child’s residence at all.
In an original suit or in a suit to modify a prior order, a parent may request that the court allow him or her to relocate with the children by asking that they be given the right to designate the primary residence of the child without regard to geographic location.
The court’s primary consideration in determining relocation issues is the best interest of the child. The case law in Texas gives us a number of factors that can be relevant in making a determination:
- Child’s age
- Accommodation of the child’s special needs or talents
- Reasons for and against the move
- Effect of extended family relationships
- Health and leisure opportunities afforded by the move
- Noncustodial parent’s ability to relocate
- Effect on visitation and communication with the noncustodial parent
Further, the Court may also consider general factors relevant to the best interest of the child, such as any physical or emotional danger to the child in the present or future, the child’s desires, the parental abilities of the individuals involved, the child’s current and future physical and emotional needs, the plans for the child by these individuals, the programs available to those individuals to promote the child’s best interest, acts or omissions by a parent tending to show that the existing parent-child relationship is not the best one for the child, the stability of the home, and any excuse for the acts or omissions of the parent.
The burden of showing why the relocation would be in the child’s best interests falls on the party seeking to relocate.
A party may file a motion to modify a prior order and may request a change to the geographic area to which the child’s residence is restricted. The party filing such a motion must allege that there has been a material and substantial change in the circumstances of the parties since the date of the prior order that warrants the request to modify the residency restriction, and the court may only grant the request if the court finds that such a change does exist.
As a general proposition, it can be difficult to get a court to remove a residency restriction and allow a parent to relocate with the child. If both parents are actively participating in the child’s life in a healthy manner, in most cases the court will not allow one parent to relocate with the child.
However, there are a couple of steps you can take when you hire a lawyer that may mean a lot for your relocation case. Depending on the facts, it might be necessary for the parent seeking the relocation to ask the court to order a social study into the respective home environments of the child. A psychological custody evaluation is another option for the parent seeking relocation of a child. In a psychological custody evaluation, a mental health professional can advise the court as to whether he or she believes the relocation would be in the best interest of the child. The court will then consider the recommendations of the professional when making its ruling.
Relocation cases are difficult, no matter which side you’re on. They can be life-changing events, no matter who wins. The child relocation lawyers at Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson can help you understand the process and work with you to get results that are in the best interest of your children.