Abrupt relocation of child to Mexico justified modifying custody

After a divorce, ex-spouses may again find themselves at odds if one spouse attempts to move away with the children. Often, parental relocation issues may be resolved outside of the courtroom. However, it is possible that a court proceeding will be necessary to resolve some disputes, as in the Texas Court of Appeals case of Arredondo v. Betancourt.

An abrupt relocation

The couple were divorced after a marriage of approximately two years, and had a son from the marriage. The mother and father were designated as joint managing conservators of the child, but the mother was given the exclusive right to determine the primary residence of the child without regard to geographic location. However, the court's order did include a provision for alternative periods of possession by the father, if the mother moved the child more than 100 miles away.

Several years later, the mother drove to Mexico with her new husband and the child. Two days later, the father received a text message notifying him that the child was in Mexico. The father claimed this was the first time he heard of the relocation. The father filed a petition seeking to modify the divorce decree to award him the exclusive right to determine the child's primary residence.

After a trial, the court did modify the divorce decree to award the father the exclusive right to designate the child's primary residence, with a geographic restriction to Harris County and the contiguous counties. The mother appealed stating that there was not sufficient evidence to support modifying the decree, since she had moved the child to Mexico under her prior exclusive right to designate the child's primary residence.

A material change in circumstances

The Texas Court of Appeals noted it had broad discretion to decide the best interest of a child in family-law matters such as custody, visitation, and possession. Among other factors, to prevail in his case, the father had to establish that the circumstances had materially and substantially changed since the date of divorce decree.

In this case, the mother had taken the child to another country without telling the father prior to the relocation. The child was abruptly removed from school in the middle of the term and the mother and her new husband had no jobs or a home in place in Mexico at the time they left with the child.

In addition, the mother did not return the child to the father for his possession periods or Christmas visitation as provided in the decree. Finally, the father's ability to exercise visitation with the child would be significantly impaired if the mother were allowed to move to Mexico or other parts of the United States to accommodate her new husband's employment.

Therefore, the evidence was, indeed, legally sufficient to modify the divorce decree to designate the father the conservator of the child with the exclusive right to designate the child's primary residence.

Carefully assess your options

Whether you are considered relocating with your child, or trying to prevent a spouse's relocation, it is crucial that you consult with a family law attorney before taking any action. Seek an attorney with experience in parental relocation cases, who can protect your rights and help you assess what options are best for you and children.