Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Relocation Revisited

It's important to play by the rules, even the unwritten ones. For many judges, there are some basic rules that apply to relocation issues. Relocation, in the family law courts, is the situation where a parent with custody rights for a child decides to move from where the parent and child had been residing to another county or state. It becomes an issue when one parent wants to move the child away from the other parent.

If you are thinking about moving to another area, you should first examine the current court order. Most Texas orders involving custody of children have a residency restriction. A very common restriction is to limit the child's residence to the current county or any county contiguous (touching) that county. Some orders are even more limited, such as specifying a single county, a city or a school district, for example.

Some orders don't have a residence restriction, but don't assume you get a free pass. Even without the restriction, the other parent can object to the move and the court may block the more.

Most Texas court orders also require that parents keep each other informed of their (and the child's) current address, as well as place of employment and phone numbers. Most orders also provide that a parent must notify the other parent (and often the court) when a parent changes home address, work place or phone numbers. The orders usually require the notice to be provided at least 60 days before the change goes into effect, or if the party doesn't know that far in advance, the notice is usually required within 5 days of when the parent learned of the change.

All of that sounds pretty easy, but here's how problems occur.

1. Moving out of the permitted area without prior notice. That's a big No-No.
2. Moving when the other parent has an active and close relationship with the child.
3. Moving when the other parent is mad or controlling or otherwise wants to make your life miserable.

Rules to keep in Mind:

1. The judge has a lot of discretion in determining what's in the child's best interest.

2. The judge will not be overly concerned with a new romance, or even marriage, of a parent that could lead to relocating the child's residence.

3. The judge is mostly concerned with what's in the child's best interest.

4. If the non-custodial parent has had an active and good relationship with the child, the judge is not likely to permit the custodial parent to move the child somewhere distant because it would disrupt the child's relationship with the other parent. (Notice the focus on the child.)

5. If a custodial parent moves with the child outside the area permitted by the current court order and fails to give proper notice to the other parent, it is very likely that a judge will order the child returned to the original geographic area, especially if there has been a good parent-child relationship with the non-custodial parent.

6. If a custodial parent is required to move by his or her employer, the court might permit the move, or might not.

7. Sometimes a judge will give a custodial parent a choice of giving up custody of the child or moving back to an area in compliance with the court order.

8. Moving a long distance away will not decrease the possibility that the judge will order the return of the child. I have seen several parents ordered to move the child back to Texas from California.

What's a parent to do (if she/he wants to move) ?

1. Keep on good terms with the other parent. Be willing to compromise, be flexible and share time with the child with the other parent. Key: Start doing that from the beginning, long before there is ever a potential issue.

2. Keep good records on support, visitation and participation in various activities. You may need them later.

3. Comply with all the court orders for notice and anything else relating to the child. Be a good citizen.

4. Think of creative ways for the other parent to maintain close contact with the child after the proposed move. Think about a web cam, email and messaging, as well as any new ideas that come along. You can offer to set up regular times for phone calls or other communication means.

5. Do research in advance. Look on the Internet for ideas. Talk with child specialists. Read any books or articles you can find about long-distance parent-child relationships.

6. Try to avoid litigation. IMHO, Collaborative Law is the best approach to resolving such difficult issues in a responsible way, but you can only do that if both parties agree to bring in a Collaborative lawyer. In Tarrant County, you can also use Access Facilitation which is available at Tarrant County Family Court Services. You can also offer to work jointly with a child specialist. Mediation might also be helpful.

7. Your chances for successfully moving away are much greater if you can do it by agreement rather than by going to court.

8. Hire an experienced lawyer to help guide you as you work through the issues.

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