Residency Requirements/ Geographic Restrictions:

The most frequently asked questions in family law cases are how long do I have to live in Texas to file for divorce AND once the divorce is completed do I have to stay here.  The answer to the first question is easy, whereas the answer to the second may get sticky depending on your situation:

Residency Requirement: As long as on party has been domiciled in Texas for at least 6 months, you may file for divorce in the State of Texas.  To establish Texas as your domicile, you must live in Texas with the intention of making it your fixed and permanent home.  A suit for divorce must also be filed in the county you reside, and you must have been physically living in that county for 90 days.

Geographic Restrictions: If you have no children you are free to leave the state or the county once the divorce is finalized.  If, however, you do have children you will probably have to stay in the county in which the divorce was filed or a county that is contiguous to it so that the child may maintain a relationship with the other parent.  The Court cannot tell the adults where they can and cannot live, but they can limit the residence of the child. Obviously, if you are the parent with custody of the child and the court limits the residence of the child, then your residence has been limited too. Your option is to stay put or let the child live with the non-custodial parent.  The state legislature has said that they want to promote the relationship between the non-custodial parent and the child and the way they accomplish this is by assuring that there is frequent contact.

The Courts have determined that in Texas a residency restriction can be as large as the state or as small as a neighborhood or school district. The size of the geographical area is within the court’s discretion subject to the facts that they hear in your case. In Harris County (Houston) the courts will typically impose the Harris and contiguous counties (counties touching Houston) language by default. That may be challenged with the proper facts.

The sure fire way to have a residency restriction put in place if you are not the non-custodial parent is to stay active in the child’s life. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen cases where my client wants a residency restriction but has not been actively involved in the child’s life. If you want a residency restriction in Texas, you need to show that you are active (i.e. interested) in the child’s life. That can mean simply exercising the visitation that you have been awarded or attending extracurricular activities. Attend some parent-teacher conferences, take the child to the doctor occasionally. It pays dividends to be INVOLVED in your child’s life!  The things listed above also apply to parents who want to remove the residency restriction in Texas. If there is not active involvement from the non-custodial parent, and the parent wishing to move has a good reason, chances are good that the court will lift that residency restriction and allow you to move.