Geographic Restrictions in Texas Custody Cases

In Texas, most courts will order a geographic restriction as part of any child custody proceeding.  One parent is often awarded the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence.  A geographic restriction limits the child’s primary residence to a designated area. In cases where neither parent is given the right to designate the primary residence, the geographic restriction limits where both parents can live with the child.

Why do we have Geographic Restrictions?

The public policy of the State of Texas is to assure that children have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of the child.  Courts should encourage parents to share in the rights and duties of raising their child after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage.

A geographic restriction prevents custodial parents from moving the child outside a particular area without agreement from the noncustodial parent or a court order.  In some cases, neither parent is awarded the right to designate the primary residence, and the parties need guidance on where the child will live.  A geographic restriction will provide parents with that guidance.

How big is the Geographically Restricted Area?

Each court handles geographic restrictions slightly differently, and the size of the geographic restriction varies.  In Collin County, judges will often order restrictions that read, “Collin County and counties contiguous to Collin County.”  A restriction worded that way would allow the custodial parent to move the child’s primary residence anywhere within Collin County or a county contiguous to Collin County, but not outside of that area.  Sometimes judges will restrict the residence to only the county.

If you go to court, you may not have as much flexibility in determining your specific geographic restriction.  We encourage parties to work together to negotiate geographic restrictions that will fit their unique needs.  You should work with your attorney to find a geographic restriction that works for you.  Do not feel bound by broad county restrictions.  If you are negotiating a settlement, you can tailor a geographic restriction based on a specific intersection, school districts, or other landmarks. You can use city boundaries, a radius based on a specific point, or boundaries drawn on a map.

Keep in mind that your possession schedule will also impact your geographic restriction.  A 50/50 possession schedule will require a much narrower geographic restriction because it is in the child’s best interest to limit long drive times.  Even with an expanded standard possession order, the further apart the parents live, the harder it is on everyone for exchanges.  You should consider how long it will take for the child to get to school or daycare, extracurricular activities, and how far apart the parents’ residences will be.

Is my Geographic Restriction permanent? 

Yes and No.  The geographic restriction is in effect until one the following: 1) written agreement between the parents or 2) court order.  If a parent wishes to move the child outside the geographically restricted area, he or she will have to get permission from the other parent in writing.

If the parties cannot agree, the parent wishing to move the child will have to file to modify the order that includes the geographic restriction.  The likelihood of winning a modification will depend on the facts of your situation.  Several factors affect whether a court will order a modification of the restriction, including:

  • whether the move is in the best of the child;
  • the involvement of the parent opposing the move;
  • reason for the move;
  • comparison of education, health, and extracurricular opportunities;
  • special needs or talents of the child;
  • effect on extended family relationships;
  • effect on possession and access with the noncustodial parent; and
  • whether the noncustodial parent has the ability to relocate.

Can I move without a court order or agreement?

No.  If you move the child without agreement from the other parent or a court order allowing you to do so, you may violate your orders.  Your violation could serve as grounds for the other parent to modify custody.  You could face contempt of court, resulting in court-ordered punishments of fines or jail time.  Additionally, the other parent could file a petition to return the child.

Can I move if the other parent moves?

Maybe, but it depends on how your court order is worded.  Many geographic restrictions are worded such that the restriction only applies if the non-custodial parent resides within that zone, but that is not always the case.  If the other parent moves out of the permitted zone and your order allows for it, you can move outside of the zone.  If the other parent has not moved too far, be prepared for that parent to file to modify in an effort to keep you close.

If you are considering moving outside of the area designated in your order, be sure to consult an attorney to find out your options before committing to the move.  The last thing you want to do is have money invested in a move only to find out the court will not allow your child to move there.

Blog post by Samantha Mori

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