An Up-Close and Personal Look at Relocation with a Child

Mother and father fighting over a child in a Texas child custody modification case

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Your child custody orders may be working very well for you, your ex, and your children, but if either you or your ex needs to move, relocation can be far more complex than you may realize.

When it comes to decisions regarding child custody, Texas courts always defer to the best interests of the involved children, and, in the process, they take a wide range of factors into careful consideration. If you are considering making a move, or if your ex has broached the subject, you need the skilled legal guidance of an experienced Killeen child custody attorney.

Best Interest Factors

Texas courts take every decision related to child custody on a case-by-case basis. In the process, they focus on the children’s best interests – as determined by a range of best interest factors that include the following considerations:

  • The preferences of each parent and of each child who is mature enough to express himself or herself reasonably

  • The physical, educational, and emotional needs of each child, including any special needs, and each parent’s ability to provide for these needs

  • The stability of the home each parent is able to provide

  • The degree to which the children have adjusted to their current living situation in terms of their primary home, school, and community

  • The degree to which each parent is committed to successfully co-parenting

  • The degree to which each parent is committed to supporting the other’s ongoing relationship with the children

A recent appeal involving a proposed relocation by a mother with primary physical custody puts these and other relevant factors to the test and demonstrates exactly how challenging this issue can become.

The Case at Hand

In the case mentioned, the mother – who was granted the exclusive right to determine the child’s primary residence within a specific geographic region – filed to have the geographic restriction removed. The mother had married a man living in Oklahoma and, naturally, wanted to relocate with the child over whom she had primary custody.

The father was convinced that the mother had already moved to Oklahoma and, in response, sought the right to determine the child’s primary residence.

The mother’s request was denied, and the trial court ruled that she had the right to choose the child’s primary residence as long as she lived within the previously determined geographic area. If she chose to move outside this area, the right passed to the father. The court’s order also called for written permission before traveling outside the country with the child.

The mother appealed the court’s decision on the basis that it failed to balance the necessary factors set forth in Lenz v. Lenz.

This case clearly demonstrates how complicated child custody modifications can me. If you are planning a move with a shared child, contact a skilled Killeen custody attorney right away for the legal guidance you need.

The Matter of Geographic Restrictions

Texas courts implement geographic restrictions related to living arrangements in child custody cases because they are bound to assure frequent and ongoing contact between children and both their parents – when both are able to provide a safe, stable living environment that supports the children’s best interests.

In other words, Texas courts are motivated to encourage parents to share the rights, rewards, and responsibilities of raising shared children.

Lenz v. Lenz

In Lenz v. Lenz, the Texas Supreme Court laid out factors designed to help determine when a relocation is in the child's best interests. The basics include the following considerations:

  • The pros and cons of relocation – in terms of the children's overall well-being

  • The health, education, and leisure opportunities the move would afford the children

  • The accommodations the move would afford in terms of the children’s special talents or special needs

  • The effect the move would have on the children’s ongoing relationship with members of their extended family

  • The degree to which the move would interfere with the other parent’s ability to visit and communicate with the children

  • The feasibility of the other parent also relocating

The Mother’s Argument

In the previously discussed case, the mother found that the trial court held her to a heightened burden of proof and, as a result, reached an arbitrary determination with insufficient evidence to back it up. For its part, the trial court found that the mother failed to establish all the following factors, which were necessary to establish the best interests of the child:

  • She failed to establish that the relocation would improve her financial standing and, thus, allow her to provide the child with a better standard of living.

  • She failed to establish that the benefits associated with the relocation would outweigh the detrimental effects to the child’s ongoing relationship with the father.

  • She failed to establish that the relocation would not negatively affect the child’s current relationship with the father.

  • She failed to establish that the relocation would bolster the child’s educational opportunities.

  • She failed to establish that the relocation would afford the child enhanced relationships with extended family members and friends or that the child’s current relationships with extended family members and friends would not be negatively affected.

  • She failed to establish that the relocation would not negatively affect the father’s ability to visit and communicate with the child.

  • She failed to establish that the father had the ability to relocate to Oklahoma.

While the mother who sought relocation was not required to specifically prove any of these factors, the burden of proving that moving to Oklahoma was in the child's best interest – via the preponderance of the evidence – rested with her. Ultimately, the trial court found that the circumstances involved did not support relocation.

In response, the mother argued that the trial court did not afford sufficient weight to the favorable effects of the move, including how improving her quality of life would, in turn, improve the child’s life and how the move would positively affect all the following factors:

  • Their financial standing

  • Their overall health

  • Their leisure activities

  • Their relationships in Oklahoma

It can be difficult to prove that your planned move will be beneficial to your shared children. As such, you should work closely with a skilled Killeen child custody attorney when preparing your case.

Case Details

The appeals court shared these details to set the scene for the appeal:

  • While the mother claimed that she and the child lived in Dallas, evidence revealed that they spent most of their time in Oklahoma.

  • The mother’s new husband intended to move to Dallas, but they’d been married more than a year before he requested the work transfer.

  • The new husband’s employer denied the transfer request, and the man believed the unique nature of his position precluded him from finding similar work elsewhere.

  • The mother testified that her new husband supported her both financially and emotionally and that it would be difficult if they could not live together as a family in Oklahoma.

  • The mother’s new husband testified that he could commute from Dallas and that he would continue to support the woman wherever she lived.

  • While the child had forged a good relationship with the stepfather and the stepfather’s extended family in Oklahoma, the child was also close to both sets of grandparents and other extended family members near Dallas.

  • While the mother testified regarding the bounty of opportunities in Oklahoma regarding beneficial activities for the child, she ultimately admitted that Dallas had similar offerings.

While the child’s father worked from home for a pharmaceutical company and had lived in Oklahoma previously, he had an important client in Texas, had work responsibilities in Dallas, and needed to live near the Dallas airport for purposes related to work travel.

Concerns about the Relocation

There was considerable evidence shared during the trial court that communication between the parents was poor. Consider the following:

  • The mother was less than transparent about the amount of time the child spent in Oklahoma.

  • The father was not convinced that the mother would engage in effective co-parenting from Oklahoma.

  • The father was concerned about his ongoing relationship with the child if the relocation went through.

  • The parent facilitator in the case raised concerns about communication between the parents – citing the mother’s lack of forthright honesty and her tendency to make decisions regarding the child unilaterally.

Ultimately, the child custody evaluator in the case voiced concerns regarding the mother’s ability and willingness to continue supporting the child’s ongoing relationship with the father. These concerns led to a finding that the cons related to relocation outweighed the pros, which aligned the child custody evaluator’s findings with the trial court’s ruling.

It’s important to address or refute any concerns that the trial court may have in relation to your case. A skilled Killeen custody attorney can present the facts about your case, advocate for your children’s best interests, and protect your rights as a parent in the face of any concerns that may arise.

The International Travel Restriction

The trial court also imposed an international travel restriction that requires the parents to obtain written agreement prior to traveling with the child outside of the country. The mother argued that, since neither party had requested such a restriction, the court had abused its discretion. The mother also made the following arguments:

  • The trial court's findings did not support the ruling that the travel restriction was in the child’s best interest.

  • Case law does not support international travel restrictions based on "communication challenges."

The mother had proposed a parenting plan that gave her the right to designate two weeks of international travel with the child during her new husband’s annual international work trip schedule. This request was in addition to a proposed requirement that both parents inform one another ahead of time when they intended to fly with their shared child within the United States.

As a result, the trial court found that the mother had fair notice on the issue of international travel – pursuant to her requested modifications. Ultimately, trial courts can impose whatever restrictions they deem necessary – as long as they are not excessive and they protect the best interests of the involved child.

The Trial Court’s Considerable Discretion

The court of appeals upheld the trial court’s rulings in this relocation case, testament to the discretion afforded trial courts in these primary matters. Consider the following statement written in the court of appeal’s opinion:

"The trial court was in the best position to observe the witnesses’ demeanor and personalities and understand influences on family dynamic that cannot be discerned simply by reference to the record."

Texas courts are generally disinclined to allow relocations that don’t specifically support increased financial, educational, emotional, and social advantages for the involved children. As such, you should work closely with a knowledgeable Killeen custody lawyer to help you build a strong case for your move.

If You Are Considering a Move

If you are the primary custodial parent of your children and are considering a move, it is important to consider all the involved factors carefully. While it is your absolute right to move, it is not your absolute right to move with your shared children. Texas courts endeavor to balance both parties’ parental rights and support the best interests of the involved children.

In order for a Texas court to grant a relocation that infringes on one parent’s ability to spend time and communicate with their children, the parent making the request must have a tight case prepared.

The court will be looking for indicators demonstrating that you are invested in supporting your children’s ongoing relationship with their other parent and that you are willing to do what it takes to continue effectively co-parenting. Failure to do so can lead to a denial of your request and a reversal of primary custody to your ex – if you do go through with the move.

Having professional legal counsel on your side from the beginning is always in the best interest of your parental rights.

Reach out to an Experienced Killeen Child Custody Attorney Today

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Killeen, Texas – is a compassionate child custody attorney who recognizes the critical role relocation requests can play in child custody cases and is well positioned to help you build your strongest case – in support of your unique position.

Child custody concerns are primary concerns, so please don’t wait to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 for more information today.

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