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What Is a Geographical Restriction in Texas and How Does It Affect Me?

The Torres Law Firm Sept. 7, 2023

A geographical restriction in Texas Family Law is like a special rule that says where a child can live. It's a bit like a boundary or a limit on where the child's main home can be. This rule is important because it helps decide which city or area the child will stay in most of the time, especially if their parents don't live together anymore. So, it's like telling the child, "You have to live in this place with your mom or dad." This helps make sure that both parents can spend time with the child, and it's decided by the court to make things fair. 

In Texas, geographical restrictions are often addressed in a court order or divorce decree when it comes to child custody and visitation. The specific Texas Family Code section that may be relevant to geographical restrictions is Section 153.001, which discusses the best interest of the child. This section is often referred to when making decisions about where a child should live, taking into account various factors such as the child's well-being and the ability of the parents to provide a stable environment. 

1. What is a Geographic Restriction? 

A geographic restriction in a court order specifies an area where the child must reside. If a court order has a geographic restriction, and you wish to move the child outside of that area, you'll need to return to court to modify the order. Conversely, if your order doesn't have a geographic restriction but you want one, you'll also need to go back to court to make this modification. 

2. Purpose of Geographic Restriction: 

Geographic restrictions are intended to ensure that children are located near both parents, facilitating shared child-rearing responsibilities. They also make it easier for the noncustodial parent to exercise their visitation rights. 

3. Extent of Geographic Restriction: 

Geographic restrictions may not always limit a child's residence to one county; they can sometimes include contiguous counties as well. 

4. Inclusion of Geographic Restriction: 

If both parties agree to a geographic restriction, it can be included in the agreed order. However, if an agreement can't be reached, one party can ask the judge to include a geographic restriction in the final order. 

5. Moving with a Geographic Restriction: 

If you have a job opportunity in another county and you have the right to decide the child's county of residence, you may be able to relocate. However, you must file a petition to modify the existing order if there is a geographic restriction. During the modification process, you must adhere to the terms of the original order. 

6. Modification Process:

If both parents agree on the modification, you can file an agreed modification case. If an agreement isn't reached, a court hearing will determine the outcome.

7. Lifting the Geographic Restriction:

If you want to remove a geographic restriction and the other parent cannot be found or doesn't respond to your petition, you must provide notice to the other parent. In certain cases, a default modification may be possible.

8. Temporary Orders:

Temporary orders to remove a geographic restriction may be granted if it's in the child's best interest. Criteria include the child's well-being and the child's preference (if they're 12 or older).

9. Financial Changes:

If the move causes financial inconvenience to one parent, the court may issue orders to allocate increased expenses fairly.

10. Responding to a Modification:

If your ex files a modification, carefully review the modification papers, calculate your deadline to respond, and consider seeking legal advice.

11. Custodial Parent Moving:

If you are the custodial parent and there's no geographic restriction, you can move, but you must notify the other parent and the court of your change in address. Both parents have a duty to share significant information about the child's well-being, including their current address.

12. Removing A Geographical Restriction:

If you are the custodial parent and there’s a geographic restriction, then before you can move, you should file a modification requesting the geographic restriction be lifted. You will then most likely have a hearing in front of a Judge. At this hearing, you will need to prove to the Judge that you are wanting to move, for the right reasons. Some reasons may be, but are not limited to, better employment, better schools, or even a new significant other.

These points provide an overview of the important aspects of geographic restrictions in child custody and visitation orders, particularly relevant for individuals involved in family law cases in Texas.