Whether removal of geographic restriction was proper in a modification
In the Interest of A.C.M. (El Paso 2019) (08-18-00014-CV)
Facts: Father filed a modification suit seeking to designate the child's primary residence. An associate judge restricted the child's primary residence to El Paso County, Texas and granted Father possession of and access to the child according to the extended standard possession order. Following a de novo hearing requested by Mother, the district court ordered, among other things, that "[t]here will be no geographic restriction on the child's residence to El Paso County" and that "[Mother] shall be permitted to relocate a year from the date of this ruling." Father appealed.
Result: The court of appeal affirmed. In this relocation case, the court of appeals relied on the well-known Lenz factors to determine whether it is in a child's best interest to lift a geographic restriction to accommodate mother's desire to relocate. Those factors include:
(1) the parent's good-faith reasons for the proposed move; (2) the effect the move would have on the economic, educational, health, and leisure opportunities for the custodial parent and the child; (3) the positive impact the move would have on the custodial parent's emotional and mental state, with beneficial results to the child; (4) whether the move would improve the custodial parent's financial situation and ability to provide a better standard of living for the child; (5) whether the child's special needs or talents could be accommodated at the new location; (6) the child's relationship with and presence of extended family and friends, and the effect the move would have on those relationships; (7) the effect the move would have on the noncustodial parent's visitation and communication with the child, and his ability to maintain a full and continuous relationship with the child; (8) whether the noncustodial parent has the ability to relocate; and (9) whether a visitation schedule could be arranged that would allow the noncustodial parent to continue a meaningful relationship with the child following the move. (citing Lenz v. Lenz, 79 S.W.3d 10, 14 (Tex. 2002)).
The court rejected Father's argument that the evidence was insufficient to support the trial court's findings that: (1) he did not consistently exercise his extended visitation rights; (2) he did not attend the child's school conferences and doctor's appointments; and (3) Mother wants to relocate for financial and educational reasons.
The court also found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing mother to relocate. Mother presented evidence that supported lifting the geographic restriction under the first, second, third, fourth, and sixth Lenz factors, including:
- She wants to relocate to Dallas/Fort Worth because she could earn more money
- In Dallas/Fort Worth she would have support from her immediate family which would allow her to pursue a nursing degree
- She could transfer with her present employer at any time
Both parents testified that they have been cooperative with one another and that both are primarily interested in what is best for their son. There was not any reason why the child's parents would not continue to work together if mother moved cooperate after relocation to ensure that the child has a meaningful relationship with both. The court also considered that Father has not consistently exercised his visitation and possession rights in the past.