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Geographic Restrictions in Texas Child Custody



The issue of geographic restrictions in Texas child custody and divorce cases continues to be one of the hottest issues our office deals with on a regular basis. Because of that, and because our previous posts on this topic are still generating more comments and questions than all our other posts combined, I thought it’d be worthwhile to discuss this topic again.

First, what is a geographic restriction?

In Texas, when the Court issues an order that contains provisions for the conservatorship, possession, support and medical insurance for a child, typically the Court chooses one of the parents as the parent “with the right to determine the primary residence of the child.” This is not always the case, as the law now allows the Court to not assign this right, but designate a locale to which the child’s residence is restricted.

That said, in most orders, the Court does designate one parent with this right. The right to determine primary residence is the right that parents are arguing about, or litigating over, in a “child custody” case. The children will end up living with the parent who gets this right. The other parent will have a possession schedule.

So, back to my question: A geographic restriction is a restriction placed on the parent who has the right to determine primary residence, which limits where that parent may determine the residence.

Here in Denton County, the most common geographic restriction is “Denton County and counties contiguous to Denton County.” Typically, if both parents live in Denton County at the time the Court renders the order, and either parent requests a geographic restriction, the Court will put such a restriction in place. While “Denton and contiguous counties” is most common, the Court can enter any restriction which it determines to be in the child’s best interest. Here at Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers, we’ve seen all kinds of restrictions, including large areas like “the State of Texas” and “the continental United States” and small areas like “the City of Denton” and “the geographic boundaries of the Lewisville Independent School District.”

Geographic restrictions are very fact specific, meaning that the Court will set a restriction in place that best fits the needs of the children and the parents. The goal, though, is always the same: Keeping both parents close to, and actively involved in, the lives of their children.

The most common questions we deal with are 1) How can I get a geographic restriction put in place and 2) How can I get a geographic restriction, which was previously ordered by the Court, removed? In upcoming blog posts on this topic, we will discuss the answers to both those questions, and others. We will also discuss how language commonly used in divorce decrees can result in the automatic lifting of these restrictions.

Do remember though, as we discuss these topics in the coming weeks, that because geographic restrictions are so “fact specific”, if you have questions about one in your case, you should talk to a good family lawyer in your area who is familiar with your Judge. Every Judge has his or her own preferences about these restrictions and it is very important to work with an attorney who knows these preferences. It is also important to find out all of your options before you take any actions that could inadvertently affect your ability to get a restriction ordered, or get a restriction lifted, in your case.

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