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How Parental Relocation Can Affect Custody Orders

How Parental Relocation Can Affect Custody Orders
Hendershot, Cannon & Hisey, P.C.

People move for all types of reasons; for a new job, to be closer to family, or to find new emotional or financial opportunities in life. While making a move to a new city, state, or country is certainly no cakewalk, doing so while being subject to an existing family law order – especially one pertaining to child custody – can introduce potential challenges and important considerations.

At Hendershot, Cannon & Hisey, P.C., our family lawyers counsel clients throughout Texas when they face life decisions that come with legal implications. We often hear from parents who have questions about how parental relocation and moving away will affect their custody agreements, and what options they may have.

Relocation & Custody: Unique Factors Matter

As with any legal matter, the impact of your move depends greatly on the situation and unique circumstances involved. In fact, there are numerous factors which may influence your available options and your course of action. Some of these include:

  • The current child custody order;
  • Special arrangements, schedules, or conditions;
  • Whether you have sole or joint custody;
  • Visitation rights and schedules;
  • Where you’ll be moving, and why you’re making a move;
  • Whether you’re looking to continue having possession and access of the child;
  • Whether the other parent disputes the move.

Important Considerations

Though every case is different, a “move-away” or relocation absolutely has the potential to create child custody issues – particularly when you want to bring your child along. In Texas family courts, there are some things you can expect, as well as some important considerations you should take the time to address. We break a few of these down below:

  • Sole or Joint Conservatorship? – In Texas, child custody is formally referred to as “conservatorship.” If a parent is awarded sole managing conservatorship, that means they have the right to decide where a child will primarily live (with possible exceptions / restrictions in some cases). If two parents share joint managing conservatorship, they may both be entitled to making decisions about where a child will live (depending on the situation and terms of existing custody order).
  • Distance of the Move – For the most part, a parent moving to a new residence a short distance away from their current resident won’t create too many problems. However, further moves very well might. That’s because moving to a new county many miles away, a new state, or a new country affects the other parent’s relationship with their child. In some cases, further moves may also be beyond geographic restrictions included in custody orders.
  • Disputes & Disagreement – Joint managing conservatorship is a common resolution in Texas family courts, as courts find it important that children have both parents present in their lives. Though it provides both parents with shared rights and responsibilities, joint conservatorship can open the door to disputes, especially in matters as important as a parent’s relocation. Parents will need to resolve these disputes by reaching some type of agreement or compromise (i.e. permitting a move and increasing summer visitation) or take their dispute to court.
  • Burden of Proof – Not every relocation matter is easily resolved; some raise considerable challenges that need to be hashed out in court, whether its disagreement from another parent, problems with geographic restrictions, or potential issues which may affect a child’s well-being (i.e. their new potential place of residence may not be safe). When these issues arise, relocating parents will have the burden of proving a legitimate justification for their move, and that it’s in the child’s best interest. Parents presenting these cases need to know their underlying motive for moving should be reasonable (i.e. relocating for a job or to find better employment), and that the child should be able to maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents (if appropriate).
  • Modifications – Whether there’s a dispute or a geographic restriction, parents looking to move away (especially out of state) will need to strike new arrangements. This may be a new type of custody agreement where both parents agree to let a child move with the relocating parent (and adjusting visitation schedules), or having the child stay where their non-relocating parent lives. Even when parents agree about a move, they’ll still need to have custody modification approved by the court, and that’s means ensuring any arrangement is in the child’s best interests.
  • Enforcement – When parents move without informing the court, the other parent, fail to abide by visitation conditions, or violate an existing custody order in any way, it gives rise to potential enforcement actions. Parents looking to enforce a custody order, or defend against one, will need to work with experienced attorneys to ensure their rights and interests are protected.

Have questions about child custody, modifications, enforcement, or another family law matter in Harris County or the surrounding areas of Texas? Call (713) 909-7323 or contact us online to speak with a lawyer.