When parents divorce, it can be an extremely difficult and uncertain time for their children. Ideally, both parents are committed to providing the child with everything they need to succeed, including easy access to both parents. This is why Texas frequently imposes residency restrictions on where the child can live. Learn about Texas residency restrictions and how a Texas child custody and family law firm like the Law Office of Chris Schmiedeke, P.C. can help you fight for the best interest of the child you love.
One of the most common issues in divorce and custody matters is the residency restriction that Texas courts impose. These restrictions are also known as geographic restrictions.
A residency restriction is a court-imposed limitation on where the child can live. Texas family court cannot tell the adults where they can and cannot live, but they can limit the child’s residence. Obviously, if you are the parent with custody of the child, and the court limits the child’s residence, your residence has also been effectively limited. You can either stay put or let the child live with the non-custodial parent when you move.
The state legislature wants to promote the relationship between non-custodial parents and their children. They accomplish this by assuring that there is frequent contact between the non-custodial parent and the child (i.e., a residency restriction). A residency restriction is applied in almost all Texas divorce and custody cases.
Texas courts have determined that a residency restriction can be as large as the state or as small as a neighborhood or school district. The size of the geographical area is within the court’s discretion and is subject to the facts they hear at trial. Typically, however, the courts will impose county-specific restrictions. For instance, in Collin and Dallas County, the courts will typically impose restrictions to Dallas and contiguous counties (counties touching Dallas) or to Collin and contiguous counties. Circumstances in individual cases vary, but in general, that is what you will see.
Residency restrictions ensure that the child maintains regular contact with both parents. They prevent a primary custodial parent or primary conservator from unfairly monopolizing time with the child while robbing the other parent of the time they deserve under the custody order or agreement. Keeping the child’s primary residence in the same state or geographic area ensures easier access and visitation for the non-custodial parent. The intent is to preserve the parent-child relationship on all sides.
The clear downside of residency restriction is that it limits the freedom of the primary conservator and the child. In some situations, there may be a good reason why a primary parent wishes to relocate, perhaps due to a new job or financial hardship leading them to live with extended family, the child’s grandparent, or other loved ones. Residency restrictions can make changing the child’s primary residence in these cases difficult.
Several methods exist for seeking geographic restrictions. First, you and the other parent can agree on a geographic restriction and include it in the agreed conservatorship and custody order. If you cannot agree, you can file a motion in family court. In this case, the parent seeking the restriction must prove that a residency restriction is in the child’s best interest.
There is one simple way to have a residency restriction put in place and maintained if you are a non-custodial parent: stay active in the child’s life. I cannot tell you how often I have seen cases where a client wants a residency restriction but has not been active in the child’s life. I think sometimes it is simply a control issue.
If you want a residency restriction in Texas, you must show that you are active in the child’s life. That can mean simply exercising the visitation that you have been awarded and attending extracurricular activities. Attend some parent-teacher conferences and take your child to the doctor occasionally. You get the point. Be involved.
If you are active in the child’s life, then the court will protect your interests because the Texas family court’s policy is to protect the right of parents to see their children regularly.
No. If you get remarried, any court order for child support, primary custody, geographic restrictions from your Texas divorce will remain in place unless there is an explicit contingency in the existing divorce decree. However, remarriage is a consideration when it comes to challenging residency restrictions.
If the parent without custody is active in the child’s life, then chances are good that the court will not lift the restriction. However, if there is no active involvement, and the parent wishing to move has a good reason, chances are good that the court will lift that residency restriction.
The easiest way to change residency restrictions from an original child custody case in Texas is for both parents to agree. If this is the case, you can file an agreed modification case. More often, however, one parent files a petition to modify the residency. Under the Texas family code, the filing parent must inform the other parent of the filing. A judge will then decide at a court hearing, that the parents must attend, whether to impose or lift a residency restriction.
To get residency restrictions altered or lifted, the filing parent must prove that the existing geographic restriction is not in the child’s best interest. For example, if the primary custodial parent gets a well-paying job that requires moving from Austin to Houston, and the child’s quality of life would measurably improve as a result, an existing restriction may not be in their best interest. Likewise, if a child has special needs and a new facility in another city offers cutting-edge resources, it may be necessary to lift the restrictions.
Whether a judge will lift a residency restriction is very fact-based. Can someone relocate because of a new job? Maybe. What are the specifics of the new job? What job opportunities are here? What efforts have been made to find a job here? How involved is the visiting parent? How far is the move? Each judge is going to have a different opinion on what is sufficient to allow a move.
As you can see, there is no one set of factors that is going to get you an answer. It depends on a multitude of things. This is why seeking legal advice from an experienced Texas family law attorney is always a good idea. Your attorney can help you navigate the process and prove that changing the existing restrictions is in the best interest of the child.
The consequences of violating geographic restrictions can be severe. The courts have the exclusive right to lift or modify such restrictions, and a parent cannot take matters into their own hands. If the custodial parent moves the child without first modifying the restriction through the courts, the non-custodial parent may file a motion asking the courts to enforce the restriction.
If the courts find the motion valid, they may take actions ranging from modifying the custody order to changing custody of the child. They may order the custodial parent to pay the court costs and attorney’s fees of the parent who filed the motion, order the custodial parent to attend parenting classes and counseling, or take a number of other administrative actions at the court’s discretion and as the court deems fit.
As experienced Texas family law attorneys, the Law Office of Chris Schmiedeke can provide legal advice regarding your rights, help you file motions in court, and assemble evidence proving that your wishes are in the best interests of your child. When the time comes, they will represent you in court hearings and protect your and your child’s rights.
If you are having issues with geographic restrictions and the conservatorship of your child, you do not have to navigate the complexities of Texas family law alone. We are ready to listen and represent you. If you are in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, call 214-989-7375 or use our online contact form to schedule an appointment with our legal team today.
I was born in Dallas and spent the majority of my life here. I moved to Denver in the middle of the first grade and moved back to Plano in the middle of the eleventh grade. I graduated from Plano Senior High in 1984 and then attended Richland College and the University of North Texas where a received a Bachelor of Business Administration. From there I attended the Texas Tech University School of Law and was licensed to practice law in May of 1993.