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Geographic Restrictions in Texas and Relocation Issues

Geographic restrictions and relocation issues generally come up in three types of cases: (1) at the time of a divorce or other Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (“SAPCR”), (2) during a suit for modification when one parent seeks to move or “relocate” and there is a geographic restriction in place which prohibits this move, or (3) where there is no geographic restriction in place, but the other parent wants to prohibit the other party from moving.

Texas public policy encourages frequent and continuing contact between the children and parents who demonstrate the desire and ability to act in the children’s best interest. Ongoing parent-child contact may be achieved any number of ways, including inserting a provision in the court order restricting the geographic area in which the children may live.

Whether a geographic restriction is imposed is a discretionary issue for the court to decide and will vary depending on the county and the court in which the case is heard. The size of a geographic restriction may be as large as the State of Texas or as small as a neighborhood or school district. That said, Texas courts will usually honor an agreement between the parents regarding whether or not to impose a geographic restriction and how large that restricted area should be.

Geographic restrictions typically arise in cases where the parents are appointed joint managing conservators. The court order will either grant one parent the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the children within a designated area or simply contain language stating that no geographic restriction will be imposed on either party.

Certain procedures must be followed by the parent who desires to move the children out of the geographically restricted area. Typically, the parent that has the exclusive right to designate the children’s primary residence will have to file a petition with the court to modify whether or not their present circumstances represent a material and substantial change that would allow them to move outside of the geographic area. If however, the other parent that does not have the exclusive right to designate the children’s primary residence voluntarily moves out of the restricted area than it may “open the door” for the other parent to leave the restricted area too. It all depends on how the original court order was written at the time the geographic restriction was first imposed.

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