Does your move checklist need to include modifying child custody?
Often parents will plan a change, such as a move after school year ends for the year. For divorced parents, an additional item on the moving list is a child custody modification.
As the school year ends, some parents may be considering a change. Relocating to a new community over the summer eases the transition for school-aged children. Seeking an advanced degree might be a dream or necessary for career advancement. Acceptance into the right program might require moving from Houston to attend the University of Texas, for example.
When a parent is divorced, child custody modification may become an issue. In any request that relates to child custody, the Texas courts review what will be in the best interests of the child or children.
What is required to modify a prior child custody order?
The circumstances of the child, conservator (usually a parent) or other party must have materially and substantially changed from the time of the custody order or mediated collaborative law settlement agreement. A child over the age of 12 may also express a preference where he or she would prefer to live. The parent seeking the change has the burden of proving a material and substantial change occurred. No rigid rule exists to provide a bar for what satisfies material or substantial.
Examples of changes that may be accepted by the Texas courts include:
- the marriage of one of the parents
- cohabitation with a significant other by one parent
- change in home surroundings, including a move to a new home or apartment
- leaving a job to return to school
A fact-specific analysis is required based on the unique circumstances. The trial court has broad discretion in deciding what is sufficient. Because of this discretion, it is important to present the strongest case at the trial court. Seeking to reverse a decision on appeal in family law cases is often very difficult.
The best interests of the child or children
In determining a primary managing conservator of the child, the court can consider positive improvement. Some of those factors may include the desires of the child along with the physical and emotional needs now and in the future. Best interest factors are similar, but numerous. Some of the factors (but by no means a complete list) include:
parental abilities of those involved
stability of the home
plans for the children – where they will attend day care or school, special programs that might be available for a child with special needs or a gifted child
Balancing the multiple factors allows the court quite a bit of discretion to modify a prior order when justified.
When you are co-parenting based on a Texas child custody order or agreement, it is a good idea to consult a family law attorney when considering a change. A lawyer can help you build the strongest case possible for modification of a prior order.
Keywords: Child custody modification, relocation, move-away