Geographic Restrictions in Divorce and Child Custody Cases

One of the most common issues that our office is dealing with in divorce and custody cases in Denton and Collin County, Texas, is the issue of either establishing, enforcing or lifting a geographic restriction on the residence of the child in the case.

First, it is important to explain what a geographic restriction is and what it isn’t. Normally, but not always, when a Court in Texas enters an order related to a child, whether a divorce decree, paternity decree, or an order in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship, the Court gives one parent the exclusive right to establish the residence of the child. Even though, in most cases, the parents are appointed as Joint Managing Conservators, this right is usually given to one parent and that parent is the one with whom the child will primarily reside. The other parent is given some type of possession schedule.

In Texas, and in most states nowadays, it is common for the Court to establish a geographic area in which the parent with the right to establish residence can establish the residence. Our most common restriction in Denton County reads that the parent can establish the primary residence of the child within Denton County, Texas, or a county contiguous to Denton County, Texas. However, it is not uncommon to see bigger or smaller areas set out in orders.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the Court is telling that parent where they can live. What it does mean, though, is that the Court is ordering that the parent can only establish the child’s residence within that area. If the parent chooses to move off to another state, for example, they don’t have the right to take the child with them and, without further Court order, the child would have to remain within that area with the other parent (assuming that the other parent remains in that area).

Because of our increasingly mobile society, it is not uncommon for a parent to want to have the right to establish the residence of the child and to have the right to move to another part of the state or country. My experience has been that, while the Court might empathize with the parent’s desires, if the other parent plans to remain in the area, and is involved in the child’s life, then the Court will usually put a geographic restriction in place. This is so that both parents remain involved in the child’s life.

There are a number of factors the Court considers in deciding whether to establish a geographic restriction or, if one is already in place from a prior order, whether to lift that restriction. In most cases, the parent wanting to move wants to do so for job purposes or to be closer to a family support group. These are good reasons and, in some cases, may be good enough to convince the Court to allow the move. However, we’re finding more and more often that the Court will go to great lengths to keep the child close to both parents.

Often, if the Court considers allowing a move (either by not establishing or lifting an existing geographic restriction), the Court will try to even things out by giving the remaining parent more time with the child, ordering the moving parent to pay some or all of the transportation costs, decreasing or eliminating the remaining parent’s child support obligation to offset transportation costs, and so on. Many times, the moving parent will get the right to move and establish the child’s residence in another area, but then elect not to because the considerations given to the remaining parent offset the perceived benefits in the move.

Further, in most orders, the geographic restriction also includes provisions that, if the parent without the right to establish residence (the parent with the possession schedule), moves outside the area of the restriction, then the restriction is lifted. For example, if the Court says that a parent may establish the child’s residence within Collin County, Texas, and the other parent then moves to Nebraska, the restriction is lifted so that the parent with the right to establish residence does not have to stay in Collin County. This is because the original reason for the restriction is gone.

The bottom line is that every case in which establishing or lifting a geographic restriction is an issue is different and involves a number of factors that may or may not be important to present to the Court. There are far too many factors to discuss here, but most of these factors are time sensitive. Further, if you are seeking to lift a restriction for a new job opportunity or other reason, these cases can take time (often months) so it is important to see a good family lawyer who has experience in the jurisdiction in which the case is pending to discuss your options and evaluate your chances of success.

Comments

  1. Laurie McGee says:

    Very imformative information regarding geographical restrictions, thank you. I do have a question though, what if the parent that has the scheduled visitation doesn’t exercise all of his rights? In other words, he only gets her every other weekend. He doesn’t exercise his 5th weekends, his spring breaks with the child, his 30 day summer visitation and he rarely participates in school or extracurricular activities. How hard would it be to get the order lifted to move to a country atmosphere along with a job opportunity for myself.

  2. Thanks for your positive comments. This is a very common issue these days. Judges do generally favor geographic restrictions, however, the facts set out in your comment are the types of facts we often use to get the restriction lifted. You should visit with a good family lawyer in the county in which your case is pending to get an accurate assessment of your chances and an estimate of the time and money involved.

  3. And this is an abusive of the courts, it takes away a person’s freedom for the court to say you can’t move or get married or take a new job or improve your life. I h ope someome someday takes this to the supreme court and challenges it. If a spouse with custody wants to remarry, or move to get a better job, they should be able to do so.

  4. Your comment echos the sentiment of many parents nowadays and is definitely something to consider. It is important to remember, though, that the Courts don’t see this as restricting a parent’s ability to move for work, pleasure, new family or whatever, but rather as a restriction on moving the child. In other words, for example, if the child is primarily living with his or her father, and he decides he wants to take a job on the other side of the country, while the mother is still living nearby, the father can move, but can’t move the child thousands of miles from the mother. The purpose is to keep the parents both in the child’s life, but, in case that can’t happen, then to try to prevent one parent from arbitrarily moving the child far away from the other parent. Again, many people don’t agree with this, but it is the typical approach followed by the Courts, and the laws of many states, these days.

  5. Anonymous says:

    But what if neither parent has family for physical and emotional support, it keeps the children from knowing their immediate family or seeing them often AND the custodial parent has made several attempts to create a new and fair parenting plan allowing the non-custodial parent more time than he/she currently has?

    What is the argument if the custodial parent wants to move 4 hrs down the road, the same direction/distance that the non-custodial parent takes the children whenever it is his/her weekend/christmas/thanksgiving etc? If living in a city where one parent thrives financially and the other is struggling (custodial) to make ends meet just to keep the kids, how is that beneficial for them? I think it’s only fair that both sides be given a chance to have a good financial system in place so at one house it isn’t toys/big house/fun and the other cant supply that because they are broke. How is it fair for the other parent to say ‘yeah I think I can live here the next 16 years’ just out of spite to control the other outside of marriage?

  6. Hi, all good comments/questions. These are all the things the Court considers when it decides whether or not to make a change and lift a residency restriction. These are all very fact-specific cases. Best way to determine whether you have a chance to lift a restriction (or avoid one in the first place) is to visit with a good family lawyer in the area in which your case is pending. They’ll know what factors the Courts there consider and what your chances are of prevailing.

  7. In my case, I was given full custody/conservatorship and I was snagged with a geographic restriction. The ‘father’ has never seen the child nor has he asked to. I have opportunities in other states and abroad and I have to take them. As it stands, I already left the state because I was terrified of him having my address and I needed help from my family, which is across the country. How much trouble am I in and how can I fix this? Its not like the father has anything to do with us whatsoever.

    Oh, and if you have some idea on which form to file to somehow get this sorted, id appreciate it. i have a potential job offer in another country to really spur my career and I really want to take it.

  8. As a general rule, if the Judge signs an Order, you have to follow it. You don’t have the ability to modify it, or ignore it, yourself. You likely need to talk with an attorney and seek to modify it through judicial proceedings. It may well be that the facts in your case would be facts the Judge would consider in lifting the geographic restriction, but ignoring that restriction, and violating the Order, can have serious negative consequences. I suggest you see an good family law attorney in the County in which your case is pending right away.

  9. Ok so I have a restriction, I got into Texas Tech in Lubbock, for a degree that is not offered in my area, I am going but doing as much online as I can. I got into Grad school too but because of geo restriction I had to say no. right now he sees them every week.( mid week) and kids dont cope to good with it. Cps is involved at the moment , we’ve had police reports of his agression and threats. I want to be able to move for my career , plus it is cheaper to live there than here, childs school is much better academically , step-father there as well, my school is much better thsn this one, only family here is my mother and ex, but my mother can move closer to me if needed.
    What can I do to have a better chance of moving?
    It’s a 6 hour difference . he would complain and impose demands when it was only a 1.5 hr drive! I cant imagine a 3 or 6 hr one.

  10. Lifting a geographic restriction is a complicated, fact-specific matter. You should see a good family lawyer in your jurisdiction (the county in which your case is pending) to discuss your chances. I’d think the consult fee would be well spent. Things like CPS involvement, how the children are doing with the visits and career/education opportunities are all things the Judge can take into consideration, however every situation is different. Without fully discussing your situation, it’s impossible to give you any kind of good evaluation of your odds.

  11. How do you get the geographical restriction lifted if the other parent moved out of the area? I’m restricted to stay in my county and surrounding counties here in Texas, but my daughter’s father just moved to Florida with his new family (supposedly for 18 months because of his job but he has no actual guarantee he’ll have a job here in 18 months, he’s just assuming). Can I just move with my daughter while he’s living elsewhere if the court orders say the restriction is lifted if he moves away, or do I have to prove to the court that he’s living and working elsewhere first to avoid trouble?

  12. Most Orders that contain a geographic restriction also contain a provision that automatically lifts it if the other parent moves outside the area of the restriction. If yours does contain that, then it might not be necessary for you to return to Court to move. If it doesn’t, then, as the sole purpose of the geographic restriction is to keep both parents close to the child and that purpose is defeated once the other parents moves away, you should be able to seek a modification from the Court and have the restriction lifted or modified. You should see a good family lawyer in your area to review your existing Order and discuss options.

  13. I’ve been divorced for a yr and a half already and have struggled financially. I’m a full time student. I have remairred and my husband is in the navy. He relocted to TX from NC. I My kids father does see them when they are scheduled to see him. My husband is our sole provider and we bought a house but it is 3 hrs from where we live now. What can I do to get the restriction changed?

  14. Christine says:

    My significate other lives with me in Bell county and he has a 5 year old daughter. His divorce decree states the child is to remain in Bell county unless the noncustodial parent moves. however, his exwife just went to Virginia to Marry a Navel Officer. She also has aten month old baby from another man in McClennan County. She left her little girl here with her dad and myseld while she is in virginia and this isn’t the first time we’ve had her for several days in a row that is not in the decree. His daughter has not even met this guy her mother just married. His ex wife has indicated that she plans on returning and getting the orders changed so she can move the child to Virginia. I own my home and have lived here for seven years. The childs father and I have no plans on moving out of the area. I have children and a good job, so no plans on moving. What are the statistics regarding the chances that she will be able to move the child out of state when the childs family, school, and support system is here in Bell county? The childs father gets the child more often than is states in the decree and he does extras like paying part of after school care and buying her clothes. He is very involved and and is a great dad.

    Any information would help. Thanks

  15. Hello and thanks for the comment.

    Every Court seems to have different, often very strong, feelings about geographic restrictions. For the most part, they’re strictly enforced, especially when the non-primary parent (the parent with a visitation schedule) is actually exercising their periods of possession and actively involved in the child’s life. That said, because every Court is different, you really need to see a good family lawyer in your county who regularly practices in front of your judge. That lawyer should be able to give you an accurate estimation of your chances of keeping and enforcing the geographic restriction, which, based on what you’ve said in your comment, should be pretty good. The lawyer will also give you information on everything you should be doing, in advance of the mother’s filing to lift the restriction, to strengthen your case.

  16. I HAVE GEOGRAPHIC RESTRICTIONS IN MY DIVORCE THAT WAS FINAL IN AUGUST 2012. HOWEVER, MY EX HUSBAND AND I HAVE BEEN SEPARATED FOR OVER A YEAR. HE WAS STATIONED IN FORT HOOD FOR THE MILITARY. HE HAS NOT ONCE SENT CHILD SUPPORT, IN OVER A YEAR HE HAS SEEN MY DAUGHTER A TOTAL OF 3 DAYS, WILL NOT COMMUNICATE *AT ALL*, AND HAS BEEN OUT OF THE MILITARY AND OUT OF A JOB FOR THREE MONTHS. I FOUND THIS OUT WHEN I TOOK MY DAUGHTER TO THE DOCTOR AND THEY SAID THAT SHE WAS NO LONGER COVERED UNDER HIS INSURANCE (HE IS SUPPOSED TO PROVIDE IT ACCORDING TO THE DECREE). I CALLED HIS MILITARY BASE AND THEY INFORMED ME THAT HE WAS NO LONGER ENLISTED AND HADN’T BEEN FOR A WHILE. OVER THE PAST YEAR I HAVE TRIED TO MOVE ON WITH MY LIFE AND IN THAT PROCESS I BECAME ENGAGED. MY FIANCE LIVES IN WYOMING WITH ALL OF HIS FAMILY. WE WANT TO GET MARRIED THERE IN WYOMING BUT I DON’T KNOW IF I HAVE TO MOVE BACK TO TEXAS OR NOT AFTER WE GET MARRIED. IN ALL HONESTY I COULDN’T TELL YOU WHERE MY EXHUSBAND IS. I JUST REALLY DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO AND I CAN’T FIND AN ATTORNEY THAT’S NOT GOING TO CHARGE ME AN ARM AND A LEG. I’VE GOT CHILDREN TO TAKE CARE OF AND DON’T HAVE A LOT OF MONEY. I JUST WANT MY EX COMPLETELY OUT OF THE PICTURE. HE IS NOT IN THE PICTURE AND MY DAUGHTER IS NOT BENEFITTING FROM HIM WALKING OUT ONE DAY. PLEASE ADVISE ME ON WHAT I CAN DO AND WHAT MY OPTIONS ARE!

  17. My divorce decree states I have no geographical limitations but on another page it states I must provide a 60 day notice to the other parent and court. If the other parent were to challenge this to attempt my child and i from moving what are his chances? He has already moved back and forth from another city for a year back to our town again. Also the previous order was uncontested. Would the courts change this for him or more than likely leave it in place as is?

  18. This is a great question, but, unfortunately, I think I have to refer you to a good family law attorney in your area. You should give the required notice, but you are right to anticipate that, if the other party decides he doesn’t want you to move, he’ll likely file a Petition to Modify and ask that a geographic restriction be imposed. The likelihood that the Court will do that depends on many factors, including the preference of the Judge in your case. Hence the reason that your best course of action at this point, before even sending the notice, would be to consult with a family lawyer who regularly practices in front of the Judge in your case and discuss your options.

  19. I understand the importance of both parents having the ability to stay involved in their children’s lives. Like many other families, I too obtained a divorce when my son was three years old. my ex-husband and I separated when he was ten months old. He did not see him on a regular basis until he was older and did not maintain his child support payments. My divorce was in 1983 before garnishment from paychecks was established. There were no geographic restrictions in Texas at that time. I feel very strongly that it is not fair for the non-custodial parent to be able to have the freedom to live their lives where they so choose even when the custodial parent needs to move for better financial, family support, or perhaps remarriage within a reasonable distance from the other parent. My son-in-law is restricting my daughter from obtaining better career opportunities by keeping her in our county. HE is active duty military and is required to work out of the restricted counties. If this applies to my daughter, it SHOULD ALSO APPLY TO HIM! She also wants a fair opportunity to have a better life for her children as well as herself. He does not make an active effort to see his children now. She has to initiate her children’s time with their father yet he says they are his world. Isn’t there some way to get the restriction denied being that his post could change at any moment since he is still active duty?

  20. Debbie W says:

    I have a geographic restriction to stay in Tx, however my fiancé lives only 1 hour and 20 min from us in Oklahoma. We are wanting to move to Oklahoma since it us cheaper and financially better for our family. I am a nurse and have several job opportunities available in Oklahoma, however my ex husband is refusing to allow me to leave Tx…even though his visitation of every other weekend would not change in any way. I told him I would incur the cost and time to drive my kids to him on his weekends and pick them up if he refuses to meet me half way. The only thing that would change would be an 1 hr on Thurs night that he takes the kids to Sonic to eat. I advised him that I have court approval to move anywhere in Tx and it could possibly be a lot further than 90 miles away. Also, he did live with his parents for several months and was 83 miles from us at the time, and I agreed to meet him half way on his weekends, in fact, often drove the entire way to pick them up. I am certain he is upset because I am moving forward with my life with someone else. I don’t understand why he can move the same distance away and it’s not a problem, but because I am moving the same distance the other direction and it just happens to put me into southern Oklahoma, why I cannot go. I am in no way keeping him from his children, and I will provide the transportation and costs on his weekends. I am seeking to lift the restriction to allow me to move 90 miles away and into Southern Oklahoma . Help !!! Any thoughts or suggestions? Do I have a strong chance of having this lifted. I have discussed with my children and they are in favor of moving as well.

  21. Victoria Oates says:

    I have restrictions in my decree. I am remarried to a service member stationed in fort hood tx. I live two counties north of my current husbands duty station. I recently filed a motion to modify my restrictions and it was denied by the judge. I understand that my son needs to see his father regulaly. My question is how is it ohk for me to move with my son 92 miles driving distance (within my restrictions) away from his father but its not ohk for me to move 115 miles driving distance (outside of my restrictions to fort hood tx) away from his father? I dont see how the extra 23 miles would make a difference!

  22. Thanks for your comment.

    Yes, residency restrictions are a very difficult topic and sometimes frustrating. I understand your dilemma as my clients often deal with the same issues. Unfortunately, because of their very nature, geographic restrictions have to have some type of geographic boundary. This is often a line on a map or a distance from a point. Most often, Courts use county boundary lines, which are completely arbitrary and commonly drawn in a way that makes no sense (Many of them were drawn before automobiles were even used for regular transportation!). For example, if a parent lives near a county line, and the other parent lives on the other side of the county, maybe, with traffic, an hour-and-a-half drive a way, the parent near the county line can’t move two minutes further away because of they are not allowed to cross that invisible boundary. Frustrating, but, unfortunately, the nature of dealing with these issues.

    You’ve already been to Court, so there might not be anything you can do at this point. When we take these cases in before the Judge, we often carry large maps, with distances clearly shown, traffic patterns displayed and so on, to help the Judge understand. Many times, rather than an arbitrary county line boundary, we can convince the Judge to go with something else, like, for example, a distance from a central point on the map.

  23. Hi, please see my other replies to questions on this topic. I would strongly recommend that you sit down with a good, board-certified family lawyer in the County in which your case is pending to discuss this. As you can see from the other comments and posts, this is a dynamic, complicated issue and, often, there are a number of possible solutions, including, but not limited to, going to see the Judge. Often, with a skilled lawyer involved helping the parties discuss solutions, a settlement can be reached without going to Court.

  24. My fiance’s has joint conservership over he and his ex’s 3 year old daugher. She has no geographical restriction in their court order. She is planning on moving to Utah with her now husband and my fiance doesnt want her to go. He has never missed a visitation, has exercised his rights to every visitation he has, never missed a child support payment, provides her medical insurance, her clothing that her mother cant afford, etc. He has a very close bond with his daughter and calls to talk to her nightly when he doesnt have her.

    Here’s the problem. He fild a motion to modify the existing order to get geographical restriction set in place. HIs ex got married in response to being served, thinking that being married would help her case to be able to move. She has already provided her 30 day notice to move and their court date is set for mid september and she’s trying to move before then. What are the odds that a judge will order her to move back or surrender custody of the child? I have heard of this happening but not sure about bell county.

    His attorney doesnt feel strongly that this could happen but she also doesnt know this judge too well. My fiance is a very fit parent and Im keeping my fingers crossed that IF she moves before the court date, that she will be ordered back or that the judge will see it as the clear manipulation that this is.

  25. I have a situation to where the mother has a restriction to remain with the boundaries of the school district that we had agreed on, and it was also stated that I did not live within those boundaries, (However I do live close to them for that reason) the child was to remain in that set school district. If both parties are not in an agreement to a relocation then that geographical restriction shall remain for that school district. Now the mother is wanting to move with no regards to the restriction set in place. I am a VERY active father in my child’s life more so than the mother and have been since the beginning. Since the mother wishes to move with no regards to the restriction, and I file a motion so she does not move will the court grant the restriction to be lifted? This is not for a Job relocation it is actually further away from everything that is involved in my child’s life, friends, school activities. It is a ploy or bribe to convince my child that all her wishes will come true if she agrees with this move and away from me, who has been the steady parent in her life. I am the primary caregiver even if the papers don’t say so.

  26. Geographic restrictions are always very fact specific. It may be likely that a Judge would lift a restriction of you are not living within the geographic boundary, but, if you weren’t there when the restriction was put in place, then maybe not. Or, maybe the Judge would ease it to a boundary that is slightly larger and encompasses the area in which you live. Bottom line, because these cases are fact specific, and because every Judge has his or her own opinion about how they should be handled, it is important that you visit with a good family lawyer who regularly practices in the Court in which your case is pending. They should be able to give you a good idea of your chances.

  27. Need help says:

    Can you recommend a family law attorney in Denton County?

  28. I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend our firm: http://www.CokerLegal.com Feel free to call my office manager, Ria Sherman, and she can let you know whether we can help or can give you a further referral, if needed. Thanks!

  29. I have moved out of my geographic restriction from Tarrant county to Canton, TX and my ex husband was not okay with it but agreed temporarily. It has been 6 months and my son is now in kindergarten there. My ex is not complaining that it is too far of a drive and he wants to be more involved in my sons life. Is there anyway of getting the geographic restriction to add that it be a 100 mile radius to include our new home? Or am I going to have to move back and can he make us move during my son’s school year?

    Thanks!

  30. Before doing anything, you should consult with a good family lawyer who regularly practices in the county in which your case is located. You may have a number of options, especially based on the father’s approval of the move, including trying to modify the geographic restriction, transferring the case to the new county, and so on. These cases are very fact-specific and also somewhat dependent on your particular judge’s personal preferences, so it is worth a consult with an attorney who regularly practices in that Court.

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