Moving When You Have Custody of the Kids

According to moving statistics, Americans move an average of about 12 times in their lifetime. Some of these moves are to a neighboring town, but others are to another state. Around 3 million people make an interstate move annually. With a national divorce rate at about 50%, it is easy to imagine that many of those moves are divorced parents with children.

Since the COVID quarantine, parents may have found more reasons to move. Some may want to expand their support system by being closer to other family members. Others could now work remotely and want to enjoy a lower cost of living somewhere else. No matter the reason to move, having a court order related to child custody can complicate and impact a parent’s moving plans.

Whether you move could come down to a judge’s decision.

Exclusive Right to Determine the Primary Residence of the Child

For unmarried parents with child-custody court orders, one parent is usually appointed as the conservator parent who has the exclusive right to determine the primary residence of the child. This exclusive right typically is given to the parent who has the child more than half the time. This parent is often called the primary parent, though that distinction is written nowhere in the law.

Geographical Restriction

It is most common for the court to restrict the child's residence to being within the county the case is in or that county and the counties contiguous to that county. For example, the restriction could say that the parent has the exclusive right to determine the primary residence of the child within Collin County Texas, and counties contiguous to Collin County, Texas. This is known as the “Geographical Restriction” in the final order. The parent is not restricted; the child is. However, since the parent wants the children to reside with the parent, the geographical restriction imposed on the child effectively restricts the parent as well. In other words, if the geographically restricted parent wants to move the children outside of the geographical restriction, the order will need to be updated to allow it. That would require that the parent wanting to move outside the geographical restriction will need to open up a lawsuit to update their final order by agreement or take it before the judge to decide if you can move outside of your geographical restriction.

If a parent does not have a geographical restriction limiting the parent’s authority to designate the primary residence of the child, then the parent can move without needing to modify the court order.

Cost of Moving May Include Reduced Child Support

If a parent wants to move out of the geographical restriction, this will likely cause the parent without the exclusive right to determine the primary residence of the children to have to travel a further distance, and thus possibly spend more money to see that parent's children. If the court increases the geographical area of restriction to allow for the move or allows for the parent wanting to move to move, the court may lower the child support obligation of the other parent to compensate the parent's increased cost for travel.

Modifying Custody Agreements

Agreed Orders

A misconception is that modifications must be messy and expensive. If the custodial parent offers to modify or make a change in an agreement, this can prevent a contested trial on being able to move if the other parent comes to an agreement.

Modifications can be as simple as filing the paperwork to reopen the case and then file an agreed order. There does not even have to be a court hearing at all if there is an agreement that you just need the judge to sign off on. It can be opened and closed within a matter of days if everyone is in agreement. The more the parties agree, the less time it takes for the attorneys to help negotiate or litigate, and thus it is cheaper.

To change an existing conservatorship or possession and access order, you have must file a motion called a "Petition to Modify the Parent-Child Relationship." The person filing the motion or request is called the "petitioner" and the parent who receives the motions is known as the "respondent."

If everyone agrees to the proposed change, the process is rather easy. The respondent can sign forms agreeing to the modification. Both parents make a brief court appearance so the judge can review the paperwork and determine whether the request is in the child's best interest.

Court Action

The modification process is more complicated if the change is contested. The parent wanting the change will need to demonstrate to the court that the relocation is in the child’s best interests and other compelling reasons. Reasons the courts may allow a relocation include educational opportunities, a job relocation (if you can't find comparable work locally), or a relocation to be closer to family, who will help support and care for the child.

The request to relocate will be likely denied if the court suspects the request to move is to harm the child’s relationship with the other parent.

If the custody order doesn’t include any geographic restrictions, the parent not wanting to move can also file a motion asking the judge to deny relocation. The parent not supporting the move can also file an application for a temporary restraining order, which would put moving plans on hold until the court sets up a relocation hearing and delivers a decision.

Legal Help for Child Custody Modifications

Whether you are wanting to move or if you are the parent wanting to fight the other parent’s relocation, you need skilled legal representation. Attorneys Camille R. Borg and Carrissa Crews will bring her fierce advocacy and compassionate insight to your case. We can advise you on how to best tailor your request to create a new or modified parenting plan. We are also here to support you if you want to fight the child’s other parent who is wanting to move away.

Whether you and your spouse, we can ensure that the agreement is legally enforceable and follows all Texas laws and procedures. All aspects of child custody can be complex, and you will need knowledgeable counsel to protect your interests as well as your child’s.

To learn more about how we can help you, contact us online or by calling (469) 646-7763

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