Written by attorney Luis Isaac Midence

The Basics of Geographic Restrictions

In Harris County, what is a geographic restriction? A geographic restriction is an order from the court which is usually included in a divorce decree or custody order in which the court orders that the child of the marriage cannot be removed from a specific geographic area. For example: Mom and Dad live in Harris County with Son. Mom and Dad decide to divorce and it’s agreed that Mom will be the sole managing conservator of the child with the right to decide the child’s primary residence. When Mom and Dad divorce the judge may order that Son cannot move from “Harris or surrounding counties" (i.e. a geographic restriction). This restriction exists to preserve the relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent (i.e. the parent who does not have primary custody of the child). It is important to have the geographic restriction included in the custody order to save time and money (and heartache!). I recently tried a case in Harris County in which a geographic restriction was the main issue. In my case, Mom unilaterally decided to move out of Harris County with child. The Dad had made the mistake of not including a geographic restriction in his initial custody order and so he had to hire me. Needless to say, Mom was not happy when she was served with notice of a modification of their custody order. She was upset because she felt she could move with the child wherever she wanted because she had primary conservatorship of the child with the exclusive right to determine the child’s residence. This case went all the way to the Harris County Family Court to be determined by a judge. During the trial we had to prove two main elements in order to modify the original custody order. 1) Was there a material and substantial change in circumstance from when the parties entered into the initial custody agreement; AND 2) is the modification in the best interest of the child. The legal standard in Harris County Family Court is “best interest of the child". BIOC is literally what it sounds like… the best interest of the child is the main thing that the court will consider. In our case, the court decided that there was a substantial change in circumstance in that the mother was no longer going to live in Texas. The family court also decided that it was in the best interest of the child to keep her in Harris County. In coming to that decision, the family court considered the fact that the child: 1) had a large extended family in Houston that loved the child; 2) the mother had as much help as she needed in Houston to raise the child; 3) the child had friends in Houston; 4) the child had a solid routine in Houston; 5) Dad and the child had a loving relationship that would be negatively affected if the child moved to another state. These are just some of the factors the family court considered when deciding to change the original custody order to include a geographic restriction. Now, my client in this case was ecstatic with the results he received in his case but the case took a toll on his relationship with his ex-wife and it was also expensive.

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