iStock-902725964-300x200When a judge finalizes a Texas divorce involving the custody of children, they will determine which parent has the right to determine where the child will live. However, courts will almost always place certain restrictions on that parent’s ability to relocate. While a relocation restriction may not immediately be an issue for a parent with primary custody, that may change if they obtain employment elsewhere in the state or decide to move for other reasons.


In a recent opinion issued by the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Dallas, the court rejected a mother’s request to modify a divorce decree that placed restrictions on her ability to relocate as well as her rights to travel internationally with her son. According to the court’s opinion, Mother and Father divorced in November 2016. At that time, the court gave Mother the right to determine where the child would live, provided it was within Dallas County, Collin County, or Southlake Independent School District. The divorce decree also required either parent to provide written notice to the other if they intended to travel outside the United States with their son.

In July 2017, Mother married a man who lived in Oklahoma. Mother started to spend as much time as possible in Oklahoma, and she would often take her son. Subsequently, Mother sought modification of the initial divorce decree in hopes of being able to relocate. Father filed a counter-petition, hoping to be named as their son’s conservator so he could keep the child in Dallas County, Collin County, or Southlake Independent School District.

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iStock-1163040189-300x200Texas has a public policy to assure frequent and continuing contact between children and “parents who have shown the ability to act” in the children’s best interest.  Tex. Fam. Code § 153.001(a).  In some circumstances, however, parents are not able to effectively communicate and co-parent.  In a recent case, the appeals court upheld a trial court order restricting the parents’ communication with each other and with the children while in the other parent’s care.

According to the appeals court, the agreed final divorce decree appointed the parents joint managing conservators.  It gave the mother the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the children and receive child support.  Both parties had the right to consent to non-invasive medical and dental care and the right to consent to invasive procedures after meaningful consultation with the other.

Both Parents File Competing Motions for Enforcement and Modification

The mother moved for enforcement alleging the father had kept the children several days beyond his spring break possession.

The father filed his own enforcement motion, alleging the mother failed to maintain insurance, provide information required to submit a health insurance claim, pay uninsured health expenses, and notify him of activities and medical appointments. He also petitioned for modification.

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iStock-543681178-300x200A final and unambiguous Texas divorce decree that disposes of all of the marital property generally may not be relitigated.  The Texas Family Code allows the trial court to keep continuing subject matter jurisdiction to clarify and enforce the property division, but it cannot change or modify it.  In a recent case, a wife challenged an order purporting to clarify the division of the husband’s military retirement nearly 25 years after the divorce.

The parties divorced in 1996.  In the decree, the trial court found they were married for at least 18 years and 11 months and the husband had served at least 13 years and 9 months “of creditable service toward retirement.”

Trial Court Awards Wife 50% of Husband’s Military Retirement

The trial court awarded the wife “[a]ll right, title, and interest in and to fifty (50) percent of [the husband’s military] disposable retired or retainer pay” and 50% of all increases in the disposable retirement or retainer pay. The husband served for several more years.

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iStock-531351317-300x200Texas family law presumes that is in the child’s best interest for both parents to be appointed joint managing conservators.  Tex. Fam. Code § 153.131(b).  When the court appoints joint managing conservators, it must give one the exclusive right to decide the primary residence of the child.  Tex. Fam. Code 153.134(b)(1).  The court may order a joint managing conservator to pay the other joint managing conservator child support. Tex. Fam. Code § 153.138. In both custody and child support determinations, the trial court’s primary consideration must be the best interest of the child.  In a recent case, a father appealed a court’s custody and child-support determinations.

Texas Office of the Attorney General Files Paternity Suit

The Office of the Attorney General petitioned to establish the parent-child relationship, asking the court to determine the child’s parentage and order conservatorship, possession, access and support.

The father testified he earned $25 per hour working as a contractor, but the availability of the work varied.  At the time of hearing, he worked between 32 and 60 hours per week.  He also testified he had the child the majority of the time and requested the right to establish the child’s residence, but he had not filed paperwork to be named primary custodian.  The father testified his parents kept the child during the day.  He said he spent a lot of time at their house and went home after putting the child to bed.

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5thingsdivorcecourt_header-300x163The best interest of the child is the primary consideration in a Texas custody case.  Tex. Fam. Code § 153.002.  The trial court has broad discretion in determining what is in the child’s best interest.  There is a presumption that a standard possession order is in the child’s best interest, but a trial court can deviate from the standard upon consideration of certain factors, including the child’s age, development, and needs, and the circumstances of the parents.  Tex. Fam. Code § 153.256.  The trial court may impose restrictions on possession and access, but only to the extent necessary to protect the best interest of the child.  Tex. Fam. Code § 153.193. A husband recently challenged a divorce decree that required flexibility in the possession and access of his children when they reached the age of 16 and started driving.

Wife Files for Divorce

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties got married in 2002 and had three children.  The wife petitioned for divorce in September 3, 2019, and requested temporary orders for expanded possession of the children.  The husband asked for equal possession.

When the children were interviewed by Family Court Services, they all indicated they wanted equal time with each parent week-to-week.  They also wanted to stay together.

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iStock-481542709-300x179A couple may choose to enter into a Texas pre-marital agreement to protect their respective assets in the event of a divorce.  A pre-martial agreement allows the parties to agree on use, control, and transfer of property, characterization of property or income, disposition of property in a divorce, and a number of other issues.  In some cases, pre-marital agreements may lead to results that the parties did not consider.

Parties Signed Premarital Agreement

In a recent case, a husband challenged an award of attorney’s fees to the wife because their pre-marital agreement provided for property to remain separate.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties signed the pre-marital agreement which provided that their pre-marital separate property and property acquired during the marriage would stay separate.  They married in 2016 and had a child the next year.

When the wife petitioned for divorce in 2018, she requested attorney’s fees.  She indicated she sought fees “[t]o effect an equitable division of the estate” and for the services she provided related to support and conservatorship of the child.  The trial court entered a final divorce decree in November 2019.  The husband was ordered to pay $14,900 in attorney’s fees, with $10,000 of that being paid directly to the wife’s attorney.

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A trial court must have subject-matter jurisdiction over a matter to hear case.  Subject-matter jurisdiction in a Texas child custody case is governed by Chapter 152 of the Texas Family Code. Pursuant to Tex. Fam. Code § 152.201(a), a court only has subject-matter jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination if Texas is the child’s home state, if Texas was the child’s home state during the six months immediately before commencement of the proceeding, if another state’s courts does not have jurisdiction as a home state, or if the child’s home state court has declined jurisdiction.  Subject-matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time, and the parties cannot waive it.

Mother Challenges Jurisdiction

A mother recently challenged the trial court’s jurisdiction after it issued temporary custody orders.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, the father petitioned for divorce and requested a temporary custody order.  The wife filed a counterpetition and asked for a custody determination.  After the trial court entered temporary custody orders, however, the mother alleged it did not have jurisdiction over the custody case and asked the court to dismiss the temporary orders and pending custody suit. The parents agreed to the temporary orders at the hearing.  The mother subsequently moved to dismiss the custody case, alleging the court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over the custody matter.  After the hearing, the trial court found the child had never lived in Texas and had lived in Japan for the six months before the father filed his petition. The court concluded Chapter 152 of the Texas Family Code governed the subject-matter jurisdiction of the custody matter. The court also found the child’s “home state” under Tex. Fam. Code § 152.105(a) was not Texas, but Japan. The trial court determined it did not have subject-matter jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination pursuant to Tex. Fam. Code § 152.201 and that it could not acquire it by consent of the parties.

The father appealed. He argued the Texas Family code does not invoke “true” subject-matter jurisdiction or deprive the court of jurisdiction over custody issues. The appeals court disagreed, however, noting that Tex. Fam. Code § 152.201 “invokes or relinquishes subject-matter jurisdiction in initial child custody matters. . .”

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iStock-545456068-300x184A Texas court may award spousal maintenance in certain circumstances, including when a spouse lacks sufficient property to provide for their reasonable minimum needs and is unable to earn enough income to provide for those minimum reasonable needs due to an incapacitating disability.  Tex. Fam. Code § 8.051.  Spousal support is generally limited based on the length of the marriage, but may be indefinite while the spouse is unable to support himself or herself because of a disability.  Tex. Fam. Code § 8.054(b).

A husband recently challenged a spousal maintenance award.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties had been married for about eight years and had a child together when the husband filed for divorce.  The wife requested spousal maintenance.

Evidence Presented at Trial Regarding Spousal-Maintenance Request

The wife, the husband, and the husband’s mother all testified at trial.  The wife testified about her work history, educational background, and health issues.  She testified that she received daily dialysis, which required her to be connected to a machine for as much as 10 hours.  She could, however, do the dialysis at home where she could move around the house and care for the child.

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iStock-952098878-300x200When a party fails to participate in a Texas custody and child support proceeding, they do not have an opportunity to contest the evidence presented by the other side. The court may render judgment on the evidence presented by the other party.  In a recent case, a mother appealed a child support award that varied from the guidelines based on the evidence of the father’s income and resources she presented after he failed to appear in a modification proceeding.

According to the opinion of the appeals court, an agreed order entered in June 2017 named both parents joint managing conservators of the two minor children and required the father to pay $620 in child support each month. The father petitioned or modification of conservatorship and termination of the child support in early 2020.  In her counterpetition, the mother asked for a recalculation of child support, confirmation of child support arrearages, and modification of conservatorship.

Default Judgment Entered Against Father

The father failed to appear at trial in April 2021.  The court denied all modifications to conservatorship, possession, and parental rights and duties, but did confirm $24,082.48 in arrearages and increased child support to $1,700 per month.

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iStock-483611874-300x200Texas spousal maintenance is allowed only in limited circumstances, including when the spouse pursuing maintenance is not able to earn sufficient income to provide for their own minimum reasonable needs due to a disability, is not able to earn sufficient income to provide for their minimum reasonable needs after at least ten years marriage, or is unable to earn sufficient income to provide for their minimum reasonable needs because they are the custodian to the parties’ child who has a disability.  The court may also award maintenance in certain situations involving domestic violence.  TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 8.051.

Husband Ordered to Pay Spousal Maintenance

In a recent case, a husband appealed an order awarding spousal maintenance to the wife, arguing there was insufficient evidence supporting it.  The parties had been married nearly 13 years when the wife petitioned for divorce.  She sought spousal maintenance for a reasonable period after the divorce and the court awarded support for three years.  The husband appealed.

According to the appeals court, the trial court had ordered the husband to pay $1,458.24 in monthly child support plus all the child’s insurance.    She testified she earned $1,700-$1,800 per two-week pay period working about 32 hours per week.  She said she previously earned $35 to $36 per hour at other jobs. She said her employer was only open four days per week so she was not able to increase her hours.

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