My Child Custody Case has to be transferred – again?!

Many parents run into the situation where there may be a pending child custody matter and the parent with possession decides to move, yet again. But now it’s to a new county. Do you have to move the case, chasing the child, all across Texas? No.

Take the case of In Re CG (jurisdiction to do anything in Mod)., (Number 13-14-00544-CV, 13th District Court of Appeals). The original order (a final decree of divorce) regarding the child was out of Sherman County. Mother had primary of the child, and when Father wanted to modify the orders less than a year later, both Mother and child lived in Moore County. Now, since the final order was out of Sherman County, the Court in that county had continuing, exclusive jurisdiction – Father had to file the modification there. But since the child had not been there for over six months, at the same time he filed the modification, he filed a motion to transfer to Moore County. Good job. Transfer accepted and done.

Then, in 2012, Mother and child moved again to Randall County. Action is still pending in Moore County, no one has lived there for over six months. Father files to transfer… and here’s the hiccup. Moore County transferred the case to Nueces County. Legally, a motion to transfer must be filed at the time of the initial pleadings (2011 when the case was transferred in). Otherwise, the Court cannot transfer the case (at least in the 13th, 1st, 14th, and 8th Districts). Only in the 3rd District (which includes Travis County – Austin) could this work.

Well, the Court transfers the case, and everything that happens in Nueces County ends up getting set aside. All the time, money, and outcomes — for nothing. Since the transfer was not proper, no court order out of Nueces County is proper, except for the order dismissing the case. Everything had to be redone in Moore County.

So not only does the case point out a (small) split in the appellate courts, but that, if you are debating a transfer, you need to do it up front with the initial pleadings.

Now – SHOULD you move the case? That depends on a range of factors, and the facts in your particular case. At this point, you should really consult an attorney to review your options.

Who Claims the Children as Dependents for Tax Purposes?

About this time of year, separated parents sometimes ask us who can claim the children on their taxes.  Many parents simply agree that the parent that would get the most benefit can claim the children.  Other parents have provisions in their orders directing the parties to claim or not to claim the children on their taxes.  But what about when there is no agreement?

The position the IRS takes is that the person having the children more than half the year can claim the children.  IRS Publication 504.

This means that the custodial parent, or the parent the children live with primarily, can claim the exemption.

So what happens if your orders say that one parent gets to claim the children and the other parent files first, claiming the children?  Realistically, the parent that should have been able to claim the children is going to have a hard time.  They will need to work with the IRS, the other party, and possibly an attorney well-versed in tax law to correct the issue.  The parent could also file an enforcement action or sue for the lost benefit.  The easiest way to avoid the issue?  Speak with the other parent, or make sure you file first.

What is a social study?

When parents can’t agree on who the kids will live with the Court will normally order a social study be conducted. This allows for a non-party, a trained professional, to look at the situation, the concerns of each party, and make a recommendation to the Court.  That recommendation is the social study.

This expert will interview each party as well as watch the interactions between the parties and the kids. They will normally also interview other children or adults that are living in the residences of the parties (should there be any) and do a home visit of each parties home to make sure it is appropriate / safe for the children.

Once the expert is done, they draft the social study. In some jurisdictions, only the attorneys and the judge will see the result.  This is because there have been times when parties have not liked the results of the social study and either share them with the children or even take out their frustrations on the children.

If you are going through a social study, be honest, participate fully, and make sure you comply fully with any requests. Talk with your attorney if you have questions.

A quick overview of the process in Dallas County can be found here.

Standard Possession Order for 2013

Since we started a new year, I thought the most useful thing to do was post a link to a standard visitation calendar for 2013.

Click OAG’s 2013 SPO Calendar

Of course, the above calendar won’t take into account all of the summer visitation or school holidays – you will have to spend some time doing that.  Here is a good website to help.

Last, click here for a more in-depth discussion of the Texas Standard Possession Order.

Relocation in Texas (also known as Geographic Restrictions or lack thereof)

How does a Court determine if a geographic restriction for the child’s primary residence should be put in place, and if so, the area of that geographic restriction? 

OVERVIEW

In Texas, the Court’s power to determine geographic restrictions comes from Texas Family Code sections 153.134(b)(1)(A) and (B).  The first section allows the Court to establish a geographic area for the child’s primary residence while the second, (B), allows the Court to specify that the conservator with the right to determine the primary residence of the child has no geographic restrictions in making that decision.

The Court, in making this decision, then looks to the public policy of the State of Texas and the best interest of the child as laid out in Texas Family Code sections 153.001(a) and 153.002.

153.001: Public Policy

(a) The public policy of this state is to:

     (1) assure that children will have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of the child;

     (2) provide a safe, stable and nonviolent environment for the child; and

     (3) encourage parents to share in the rights and duties of raising their child after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage.

153.002: Best Interest of Child

The best interest of the child shall always be the primary consideration of the court in determining the issues of conservatorship and possession of and access to the child.

SPECIFIC FACTORS

As you can see, there is not a lot of guidance.  Fortunately, two cases lay out the factors to consider.

For the best interest of the child, we look to Holley v. Adams, 544 S.W.2d 367 (Tex. 1976).  While an older case, it is still continuously cited and is still considered good case law.  In fact, when searched on LexisNexis on January 6, 2012, Holley was cited 963 times.

Those factors are:

  1. the desires of the child;
  2. the emotional and physical needs of the child now and in the future;
  3. the emotional and physical danger to the child now and in the future;
  4. the parental abilities of the individuals seeking custody;
  5. the programs available to assist these individuals to promote the best interest of the child;
  6. the plans for the child by these individuals or by the agency seeking custody;
  7. the stability of the home or proposed placement;
  8. the acts or omissions of the parent which may indicate that the existing parent-child relationship is not a roper one; and
  9. any excuse for the acts or omissions of the parent.

This listing is by no means exhaustive, but does indicate a number of considerations which either have been or would appear to be pertinent.  Holley v. Adams, 544 S.W.2d 367, 372 (Tex. 1976).

For factors to consider in the relocation context, we look to Lenz v. Lenz, 79 S.W.3d 10 (Tex. 2002).  In Lenz, the Texas Supreme Court dealt with two German citizens and their children.  One parent wanted to move back to Germany.  The Texas Supreme Court stressed that old standards of relocation which place a burden on the parent choosing to move may not be feasible or appropriate in our society today, since there is “[i]ncreasing geographic mobility and the availability of easier, faster and cheaper communication.”  The Court then looked at other states to discuss factors now deemed more relevant in today’s society.   Those factors are:

  1. reasons for or against the move;
  2. comparison of health, education and liesure opportunities;
  3. whether special needs and talents of the children can be accommodated;
  4. the effect on extended family relationships;
  5. the effect on visitation and communication with the non-custodial parent to maintain a full and continuous relationship with the child; and
  6. whether the non-custodial parent has resources to relocate.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

Echols v. Olivarez:

Another case sometimes referenced is Echols v. Olivarez, 85 S.W.3d 475 (Tex. App.– Austin, 2002).  Echols takes some of the language of Lenz and expands on it so that the “context of the custodial parent’s happiness” should be a factor as well.  The idea is the custodial parent’s happiness can influence the child’s happiness.  Since the Texas Supreme Court in Lenz left the list of factors open, this seems a legitimate factor to consider in the relocation context, though the weight that should be assigned this factor is certainly not determinative of the relocation issue.  Later cases cite this factor and the current attitudes on this in the scientific community as evidenced by expert testimony at the trial court level.  However, that will need to be another post.

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