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Geographic Restrictions

Child Custody & Visitation

This article examines geographic restrictions on children's residences in custody orders.

A geographic restriction in a court order, specifies an area where the child must reside. If your court order has a geographic restriction and you want to move the child outside of that area, you would have to go back to court to modify the order. Additionally, if your order does not have a geographic restriction but you would like to have one, you would have to go back to court to modify the order. 

What is a geographic restriction?

A geographic restriction is part of a custody order or divorce decree that restricts where the children subject to the order can reside. For example, a final decree of divorce involving a family that resides in Houston might include a geographic restriction that the children remain in Harris County.

What is the purpose of a geographic restriction?

Geographic restrictions help to ensure that a child or children are near both of their parents, which, ideally, lets the parents share child-rearing responsibilities. Additionally, geographic restrictions make it easier for the noncustodial parent to exercise their visitation rights.

Does a geographic restriction always restrict a child’s residence to one county?

No, sometimes geographic restrictions include the county where the child currently resides and surrounding ("contiguous") counties.

Do all custody orders or divorce decrees include geographic restrictions?

No. You should check your order to see if it includes a geographic restriction.

How do I include a geographic restriction in my family law order?

If you and the other party agree to a geographic restriction, you can simply include the specific restriction in your agreed order. If you are unable to come to an agreement, one party can ask that the judge include a geographic restriction in the final order.

I have a job lined up in another county. Can I move?

Show your court orders to a lawyer, because it depends. If you are not the conservator with the right to decide which county the child lives in, you might be able to relocate.

If you are the parent who has the right to decide which county the child lives in—and there is a geographic restriction—you must file a petition to modify the existing order, so that the geographic restriction can be lifted or changed. While your modification petition is pending, you must continue to follow the terms of the original order.

See Changing a Custody, Visitation or Child Support Order.

Do I have to file anything after the original order is signed to move to a different county if there’s a geographic restriction?

It depends.

If you are the parent with the right to decide the child's primary residence; there is a geographic restriction; and you want to move to an area outside of the area designated in your order, you will need to file a petition to modify the order.

How do I modify my custody or visitation order?

If you and the other parent agree to the modification, you can file an agreed modification case. If you cannot come to an agreement with the other parent, your case is contested and there will be a court hearing where the judge will make a decision regarding the proposed modification.

To learn more about modification suits, read Changing a Custody, Visitation or Child Support Order.

What if I want to lift the geographic restriction and I can’t find the other parent or they do not respond to my petition?

You must give the other parent notice that you have filed. For more, read How to Serve the Initial Papers. If you do not know where the other parent is or if they have been served but have not answered your petition to modify, you may be able to finish your case by default. You can read about how to do this: Instructions and Forms for a Default Modification

Can I get a temporary order to remove the geographic restriction while my modification case is pending?

Possibly.  The court can only issue a temporary order that creates, changes, or eliminates a geographic restriction if the temporary order is in the best interest of the child and either (a) the child’s current living arrangements would harm the child emotionally or physically; (b) the person designated in the final order has voluntarily given up primary care and possession of the child for more than 6 months; or (c) the child is 12 years of age or older and has told the judge in chambers who they would prefer to live with. Read the law here: Texas Family Code 156.006(b).

If the court grants my modification, will anything else change?

Possibly. If the move is financially inconvenient to one party, the court may issue an order to allocate the increased expenses in a fair and equitable way. When making this type of order, the court will consider the cause of the increased expenses and the best interest of the child. Read the law here: Texas Family Code 156.103.

What do I do if my ex filed a modification?

Read the modification papers carefully. Calculate the deadline to file an answer by using this information. If possible, talk to a lawyer. Learn more about how to respond to a modification case.

Important! Read How to File an Answer in a Family Law Case.

If I’m the custodial parent and there’s no geographic restriction in the order, can I move? Should I let the other parent know?

You can move, but you must notify the other parent and the court of your change in address. Each party has a duty to inform the other parent about any significant information concerning the child’s health, education, and welfare in a timely manner. This duty includes informing the other parent of your current address unless your order states otherwise. Read Changing Your Address or Employment Information. And you can read the law here:  Texas Family Law Code 105.006.

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