What is Parental Relocation?
In Texas, parental relocation is the act of a parent changing the primary residence of their child. While some relocations are minor and only require notification to the other parent, major moves outside any designated geographical restrictions call for the modification of the parties’ existing custody arrangement.
The parents can agree to a new arrangement, or in absence of such an agreement, the court may rule on whether the child’s relocation is allowed. If you have questions about moving with your child, contact one of our experienced child custody attorneys at Scroggins Law Group today. We will help you sort out your options.
Can a Custodial Parent Relocate?
When discussing parental relocation, a good place to start is with the question: Can a custodial parent relocate with their child? It depends. A court cannot stand in the way of either party relocating. However, a court can absolutely stop the relocation of the minor child. The ability to relocate is subject to several legal and factual considerations that are determined by the parties, and either their prior order, or the Court.
Generally, a custodial parent must at least make the non-custodial parent aware of any plans to relocate. Notice requirements can differ by agreement, but parties typically
see something like:
- sixty (60) days notice required upon the custodial parent’s becoming aware of their plan to move.
- Parents must also provide the address of their new residence.
- If you are a custodial parent planning to relocate, it may be helpful to reference any previous custody agreement in place to determine what is required of you.
A parent’s status as a sole managing conservator, joint managing conservator, or possessory conservator will further affect their ability to relocate with the child:
Sole Managing Conservator
A sole managing conservator is typically granted the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of their child without regard to a geographical restriction. Therefore, sole managing conservator parents may not need permission from the court or the other parent to relocate with their child (subject to geographical restrictions). However, notice of the move is often still required to be given in a timely manner to the non-custodial parent.
Joint Managing Conservator
On the other hand, joint managing conservator parents share decision-making capabilities pertaining to their child and almost without exception, have a geographic restriction governing where the child must live. It is in these situations where the parent who has the exclusive right to establish the primary domicile of the child wants to move with the child that problems arise. Because sharing such responsibilities can be confusing and difficult, parties or the court will create a parenting plan in which one conservator is granted the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child (along with the allocation of other rights and duties). Like in a sole conservatorship, once a joint conservator parent is vested with the right to designate, they will not need the permission of the court or other parent when moving unless otherwise agreed to (again, subject to geographical restrictions). However, notification of the non-moving parent is still required.
Possessory conservators, by definition, do not retain the right to designate the residence of their child. Possessory conservator parents do not have primary physical custody over their child. As a result, they may relocate, but unless the custody agreement is modified, a possessory conservator parent will not be taking the child with them.
Changing an Existing Child Custody Arrangement
Parents may have many reasons for wanting to modify a custody arrangement. One parent may want to have more time with the child, child support may need to be adjusted, or someone may be relocating. A common issue parents run into when moving is relocating outside of the geographical residence restrictions (discussed below) laid out in the existing order governing custody. A parent can have the most compelling reasons in the world for moving – a new job with better pay, better schools, to be closer to more family, etc – yet they will remain unable to do so unless they modify their existing custody arrangement by agreement or through the court.
If a parent wants to relocate, they will likely modify to lift or change the geographical restrictions in place for moving. Though they will be discussed in greater detail below, custody agreements often contain language regarding geographical restrictions on the child’s primary residence. If a parent was to attempt to move out of the designated zone (even if they are a custodial parent) they will have to receive permission from the other parent or court to do so. Texas law dictates a policy of keeping frequent contact between children and their parents whenever it is in the child’s best interest. As a result, the moving parent needs to show that it is in the best interest of their child to relocate in order to be able to successfully modify the geographical limitations in the existing order.
To solidify the modification, courts require the creation of a new parenting plan detailing changes in custodial schedules, child support, and even travel expenses of the non-moving parent.
Geographic restrictions when Relocating
Custody agreements most often contain some sort of restriction on where a child’s primary residence may be located. As it is the policy of Texas courts to keep kids in close contact with their parents, geographical restrictions for moving are included in most custody orders to ensure that the child does not live too far from either parent. There are even statutory directions in place for when parents live over 100 miles from one another. The type of geographical restriction varies from order to order. Orders may measure by counties, miles, school districts, etc. This may mean that small moves are automatically approved as they do not contradict the restrictions.
The real issue becomes when a parent wishes to relocate outside of the boundaries set by their existing order. In this case, parental relocation may only occur when it is proven to be in the best interest of the child they plan to take with them. The best interest standard is fact intensive, meaning that courts will weigh multiple factors for and against moving in order to come to a conclusion on whether to allow for it. Courts will consider factors specific to the case at issue, but some common considerations may include:
- The reasons for and against relocation
- Earning capacity of moving parent
- Potential educational opportunities for the child
- Emotional, psychological, and medical support opportunities for the child
- New living arrangements of the child
- Whether child support can be adjusted and how much
- Travel expenses and who pays for them
- How much the non-moving parent will be able to see the child
- Whether the child will be able to adjust to a new environment
- Whether a larger support network exists for the child in the new place of residence
- Preference of the child if 12 years or older
Again, a best interest determination is fact-intensive, meaning that there is no set approach or overarching factor necessary to making such a decision. Courts will review the pros and cons of your specific case and make a ruling.
If you see a move in your future, it is important to know your rights. Here at Scroggins Law Group, we can help you figure out an arrangement that works best for you and your child. Call us today at 214.469.3100.