Mother ordered to relocate to Texas, after dispute over father's custody

When a parent attempts to modify a child custody arrangement, the parent attempting to change the situation must show a material and substantial change in the situation. Whether something like a change in residency qualifies depends on the facts of the case.

The Texas Court of Appeals case of In re T.M.P. provides an example where the changes were substantial, resulting in significant changes to the child custody arrangement.

A mother's refusal

The mother filed for divorce in Texas, and the parents were designated as "joint managing conservators"-that is, they were granted joint custody-with the mother awarded the exclusive right to establish the primary residence of their two small children.

By the time the decree was signed, the mother had been living with her parents in South Carolina for approximately three months. Although the divorce decree set out a specific schedule for the father's possession and visitation with the children, after a few months, the mother refused to relinquish the children for the father's visitation in Texas. The mother alleged sexual abuse by the father, yet, after multiple physical examinations, there was no finding of any abuse. Mother still continued to refuse to allow the children to visit the father in Texas.

The mother moved to terminate the father's parental rights, while the father objected to the mother's interference with his ability to visit with the children. The lower court decided the parents would maintain joint custody, and that the mother would continue with primary physical custody. However, she must relocate from South Carolina to Tarrant County, Texas, or a contiguous county. The court also found she had interfered with the father's possession of the children and held the mother liable for damages in the amount of $50,000, as well as attorney's fees. The mother appealed.

Detrimental to the children's best interests

In this case, within three months of the divorce, the mother had remarried and engaged in efforts to rid herself of the father and create an opportunity for step-parent adoption. She had subjected the child to numerous interviews and doctor's visits, despite the fact that every investigation rule out the allegations of sexual abuse.

The trial court had specifically announced that the mother and her family's actions had been detrimental to the best interest of the children. Thus, the evidence was legally and factually sufficient to support the restriction of the mother's choice of primary residence to a specific portion of Texas.

In addition, the Texas Court of Appeals held that the father was, indeed, entitled to damages for the interference with his rights to possess the children as well as for his attorney's fees, where the mother had intentionally and knowingly interfered with his ability to have the children visit him.

Defending your parental rights

Ignoring the terms of a divorce decree and interfering with the custody rights of the other parent can have significant consequences. Whether you are considering relocating or otherwise trying to modify a child custody situation, you should have an experienced family law attorney in your corner to advise you on the appropriate course of action and defend your parental rights.