For parents with joint custody, life happens. Whether it is for work or access to affordable housing, parents may need to move from the original location where they were living when their conservatorship agreement was signed. However, the move may be difficult for the children because it could take them farther away from their other parent and their school. Parents with joint custody are allowed to move, but there are limits to how far they can go.
When there is a joint managing conservatorship, a parent does not have an unlimited right to relocate with a minor child without the court and/or the other parent’s permission. It may not be in the best interests of the child in terms of the distance they must travel to both their school and the other parent’s home. The greater distance may make it difficult for the parent who has not moved to spend time with their children. Relocation can be a complicated issue that could end up in court.
If the relocation is just a short distance away, there should not be any problem or a need to involve the court. The parent would simply move and give the other parent their new address.
A Conservatorship Agreement Should Address Where a Parent Can Move
A conservatorship agreement should have a clause that addresses relocation based on the original locations of the parents. The agreement may restrict a parent to living within a certain radius of their original location. For example, the agreement could state that the parent can move within a 100-mile radius of that location. Alternatively, a conservatorship agreement could be based on the children living within a certain county.
If this language is in the court order, the parent can usually move within the permitted area without going to court or seeking agreement from the other parent. Most often, a court would include language restricting relocation in a divorce order since it is part of Texas’ public policy to keep children in the same area as both parents. The state wants both parents to be involved in raising their children and to spend as much time with them as possible. However, this is not an ironclad rule, as there may be some factors that support a move outside a previously defined geographic area.
Relocation may be restricted on the following basis:
- Within the same county
- Within adjacent counties
- Within the same school district
In certain parts of Texas, even moving within the same county can cause a disruptive impact, given the time it could take to travel within large counties. Similarly, relocation within an urban area could also pose issues with heavy local traffic. The parents should consider these issues when they are negotiating the conservatorship agreement.
If there is no language about relocation in the agreement, the parents must address it through negotiation or court intervention.
The Parents May Discuss Relocation Outside the Specified Area
A parenting plan may already contain a process that must be followed if one parent wants to relocate with the children. For example, there may be a mediation process the parents can go through to help them reach an agreement.
For a parent to move outside the specified area, they may need the other parent’s consent. The two parents could then negotiate a change to the parenting plan and amend the custody arrangement and the times a child spends with each parent. The agreement would then be filed with the court as a modification. The judge would review it and decide whether to sign it.
Although this may be the least contentious outcome, there is nothing that says a parent must agree to allow the other parent to move. Parents have custodial rights granted by the agreement that a court will take seriously.
The Court May Decide Relocations Based on the Best Interests of the Child
If the parents cannot reach an agreement, the parent who wishes to relocate would need to go to court to ask for a modification of the previously agreed-upon parenting plan. Like everything else relating to custody of children, a court would apply the “best interests of the child” test to this relocation question.
Even against the backdrop of Texas public policy, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to issues of relocation. Especially in the wake of the pandemic, parents are moving more often. Courts are now being asked to address these issues with growing frequency.
Relocation is a difficult topic because it can change the relationship between a child and their parents. When children are further from a parent, it will make it more difficult to see and spend time with them. There may be other factors, however, that make a relocation in their best interests, notwithstanding the impact that it could have on the relationship with the other parent. For example, a parent earning more money in a better job that requires a move or having the support of their family who lives near a potential new home may be factors that could be in the best interests of a child or children.
In the meantime, the non-moving parent could file for a temporary restraining order to block the move while the court considers the arguments on each side. The court would need to consider the restraining order first before addressing the merits of the request to relocate.
If you are dealing with an issue of a potential relocation, you should contact an experienced family law attorney to advise you throughout the process.