A closer look at factors considered in a Texas parent relocation request

The most important thing in a proposal that a parent move away with a minor child is that child’s best interest.

In today's mobile society, it is not unusual for people in Texas and elsewhere to move long distances. A major move can become thorny if the person moving has primary physical custody of a child as granted in a previous divorce. The other parent may be very involved with the child and have legal rights of possession, access or visitation, creating a conflict between the parents over whether a relocation that would take the child away from the other parent's community should be allowed and on what terms.

Negotiated agreement

Divorced parents may be able to negotiate an agreement outside of court to modify their parenting plan in which they cooperatively agree to changes that will allow the parent left behind to continue a meaningful relationship with the child. For example, electronic communication can allow new means for the parent and child to have long-distance contact. If money allows, the parent or child may be able to travel easily to visit the other. The arrangement may change from a schedule of daily or weekly periods of access to one that involves longer, but less frequent, visits such as during holiday or summer breaks.

Texas relocation standards

If the parties cannot agree, the matter may end up before the Texas state court as a request to modify conservatorship, possession and access provisions of the previous parenting plan or court order.

If the parents were appointed joint managing conservators to make major life decisions for the child together, the court order designated which parent has the right to choose the child's primary residence and whether there is a geographical restriction.

In case of a geographic restriction, the parent with the right to choose the child's residence who wants to move outside of the restricted area with the child would have to get a modification of the original order. The matter may also end up in court if the parent who would be left behind objects and asks for a modification of the original parenting plan and conservatorship arrangement. For example, he or she may ask for the power to choose the child's primary residence to be reassigned.

Texas statute requires that modification may only be made if it would be in the child's best interest. One of these must also be true:

  • There has been a material and substantial change in circumstances of the child, a parent or another significant person.
  • If the child is at least 12, he or she tells the judge in chambers who the child prefers decide the child's primary residence.
  • The parent with the right to designate primary residence has given care and custody of the child to someone else for at least six months.

To determine the child's best interest in a relocation, the court must consider:

  • Frequent contact with each parent is usually preferred.
  • The child should have a "safe, stable, and nonviolent environment."
  • Parents should continue to share in raising their child.

Beyond that, the court should consider all other relevant factors, which in a move away case includes the reasons supporting and against the proposed move, the impact on family relationships, the child's age, emotional impacts on the child, whether the child has special needs that would be impacted, the positive and negative aspects of the proposed new home and others, especially the impact on the relationship and contact with the parent left behind.

Attorney Mysti Murphy of the Law Firm of Mysti Murphy in San Antonio represents clients on both sides of the move-away issue in the San Antonio metropolitan area.