Well, one of the rights and duties that have to have apportioned in a paternity order, or an order establishing paternity or a divorce decree with children, is one parent is given the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child. Then within that right, the parties either have to agree or a court decides whether there’s going to be a geographic restriction on that right or no geographic restriction on that right. Historically, we’ve seen courts or parties agree to a geographic restriction that involves the county of residence or the county that the divorce is pending in, or the lawsuit’s pending in. It may be contiguous counties to that, to give a parent some ability and flexibility to move around. If there’s no geographic restriction in the order and you have a parent that wants to move away, for instance, if the divorce was here in North Texas and they want to move to the east coast or the west coast, then they’ve got the right to do that. They would need to give notice to the other party, and certainly the other party has a right to come in and petition for a modification to either impose the geographic restriction or to potentially change custody.
If there’s a geographic restriction in the original order and a parent wants to move with the children outside of that geographic restriction, they’re going to have to petition the court for that ability to relocated; and they’re going to have to show the court why they think it would be in the best interests of the children to be able to do that. In Texas, in a modification, you’ve got to show that there’s a material change of circumstances between the time of the original order and the requested modification. So, a lot of times what we see is a spouse who has primary custody either gets a job offer outside of that geographic area or maybe they’ve remarried and want to move out of that geographic area. Maybe their new spouse has a job offer outside of that geographic area. Or maybe they want to move home.
Relocation litigation is hotly contested and can be some of the most intense litigation. But certainly the parties have a right to go to the court and ask for that, and more and more we’re seeing courts allow that. Again, it goes back to how involved the parents are with the kids. If you’ve got a mom and dad who are very involved, you may not have the right to move out of this area, but if you’ve got a dad who exercises his visits but really isn’t engaged in the process with his kids and doesn’t participate in rearing his kids, then a court may be more inclined to let you move out of this area.