Not everything in life remains the same; this is especially true for a parent with a desire to relocate. While moving to a new city, state, or even country can be a difficult experience for anyone, it becomes even more challenging for parents with young children; especially parents who are subject to a prior court order or no court order. This desire to relocate can stem from a parent who seeks a fresh start in their post-divorce lives. However, any parent, unmarried or otherwise, can make the decision to relocate for any number of reasons–whether that be a new job, new spouse, educational opportunities, the desire to be closer to family, or better opportunities.
As mentioned briefly in a previous blog, child custody cases involving parental relocation can create a challenging and emotional family law case. This is because such case involves the possible separation of one parent from their child and/or children. Although child custody, divorce or modification proceedings involving relocation do present complex legal issues, they can be effectively handled with the help of a skilled and compassionate lawyer.
What is Parental Relocation
Parental relocation is a term used to describe a situation in which a parent wishes to move with their child from a previous relationship. These parents typically have child custody agreements with their child’s other parent. These agreements may contain geographic restrictions, travel arrangements, provisions for parent’s living 100 miles or less apart, or 100 miles and more apart, and holiday schedules. These child custody agreements may also not contain such provisions, and you may want an order to provide for the possibility of such issues.
Child custody agreement orders can be reached as the result of a divorce or a suit affecting the parent-child relationship Moreover, if you wish to change your prior court order through a modification there is a process that will need to be approved by a judge. In both proceedings an issue that will need to be approved is relocation. Relocation needs to be approved because this can change a relationship between a parent and their child. If you are planning a move you may need to look to your prior court order, or if you have no court order you may need to an order to protect you and your child’s best interests. This is why it is very important if you are planning to relocate to consult with a knowledgeable attorney who deals with these issues regularly.
How to Pursue Changes for a Relocation
Relocation may be approved by agreement or through court intervention. As discussed previously, this can be done in cases such as a suit to modify a prior court order or by filing a new suit. A new suit or a suit to modify a prior court order will require a final order and approval from the court.
- By agreement – Parents who desire to move away with their child and/or children may have the option of coming to an agreement for the relocation. Even when the non-moving parent agrees to the relocation, both parents still have possible issues to address with the court. This can include a number of issues such as an increase or decrease in child support, change in travel schedules, and possession and access. Even if you have an agreement concerning relocation it is important to contact an attorney regarding your agreement and the enforceability of such agreement. The attorney can advise on what if anything your previous order is missing, what the court would allow, and can also tailor your possession and access schedule to your unique needs. This can include the creation of new or modified parenting plan that can detail arrangements for certain holidays, longer visitation during the summer, or detail airport travel and expenses.
- Court intervention – In some cases, parents are unable to reach an agreement on relocation. This can be the case when a non-moving parent wants to contest the move, or when the parent believes the move is not in their child’s best interests. This parent may also have reason to suspect the move is being made to alienate them and deprive them of a meaningful relationship with their child and/or children. Moreover, when disputes arise, or when parents have concerns about the child’s well-being in the other parent’s care, a parent must take action to protect their child, this parent may consider a move as the only way to protect their child. This protection can be relieved in court, and it is important to discuss your concerns with an experienced attorney who can help you petition for such relief.
Many parents are surprised to learn in a divorce decree or a suit affecting the parent child relationship, it is common for a court to impose a geographic restriction. This geographic restriction is imposed as part of the public policy of Texas courts, as a means to ensure both parents have frequent and continuing contact with their child.
The geographic restriction can limit the child’s residency to a county, adjacent county, or school district, to name a few. Relocation of a short distance may be considered non-disruptive and approved, however, in cases involving relocation of longer distances, such as to another state, may require court intervention or agreement. Depending on your prior court order, some orders have a geographic lift when the other parent moves, however your order may not. This is why it is important to discuss with an attorney the possibility of relocation so an attorney can provide for such things in your order. If your court order has a geographic restriction, it is important to talk with a family law attorney to ensure you will not violate a court order, and possibly jeopardize your child custody agreement. Furthermore, a parent will need to petition the court to modify, lift the geographic restriction, or provide for a geographic restriction. For all of these reasons it is important to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced lawyer.
Reasons for Relocation
As discussed previously, modifying a prior court order or creating a new court order to provide for relocation is subject to court approval. When the court intervenes or is reviewing your agreement, they can look to many factors, one being the reason for relocation. As discussed previously, some of the main reasons a parent may have for relocation are sensible and appropriate, including:
- New job
- Better housing
- Education opportunities
- Proximity to family members and community support
- Other parent fails to exercise regular possession
Parents may also choose to move in order to protect themselves or their child from any risks they may face as a result of a toxic relationship with the non-primary parent, such as criminal activity, substance abuse, or domestic violence. In some of these cases, parents want to protect their children. Alternatively, a parent may also face these types of allegations, and may also need protection or rehabilitation. If you are a parent arguing for or against relocation, you should seek advice regarding your reasoning and how to adequately defend your position with an experienced attorney.
Best Interests of the Child
As with any family law matter involving a child, courts consider a range of factors when looking to the best interests of a child. In addition, the Texas Family Code provides that it is the public policy of the State of Texas to assure that children will have frequent and continuing contact with both parents. The factors the court can consider when looking to best interests of a child can mean looking to where children will be living, but also looking at whether:
- Proposed living arrangements are safe, stable and non-violent;
- The child’s age
- Meaningful relationships can still be had with non-primary parents (when appropriate); and
- Children will be able to adjust to the new city, state, or country.
Courts will also assess the moving parent’s circumstances and ability to care for their child, the child’s relationship with each parent, and the ability of both parents to work together. In some cases, children who are older in age may provide their own opinions about relocation for consideration by the court. The ability for a child to talk with a judge to discuss relocation however is done in a case-by-case basis. It is important to consult with an attorney so an attorney can petition the court for this type of relief, or advise you on any possible disadvantage for this type of relief.
Proven Attorneys for Move-Away Cases – Call (940) 293-2313
Parental relocation cases are difficult and are largely fact-specific in the issues they address. For these reasons, it becomes important for any parent involved in these proceedings, either as a primary parent looking to move, or non-primary parent looking to contest the move, to work with an experienced attorney who has the skills and experience to support your position.
At Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers, our legal team protects the rights of parents and their children in divorce or child custody cases. We also have the insight, ability and compassion to effectively represent our clients’ and advocate for our client and their child’s best interests.
If you have questions about a matter involving parental relocation and how our award-winning attorneys can help you, please call (940) 293-2313 or contact us online. Our team serves clients throughout Denton County, Collin County, and the surrounding areas.