EP 242 Geographic Restrictions in TX Family Law with Dannielle Simms of Simmslawgroup.com

Courts tend towards imposing geographical restriction unless specific circumstances warrant otherwise.

-Attorney Dannielle Simms

In this episode, Texas Attorney Dannielle Simms of Simmslawgroup.com joined Mac Pierre-Louis of Macpierrelouis.com to share perspectives on geographic restrictions over children as discussed in Texas Family Code Section 153.134, including addressing disputes when one party seeks to relocate due to various reasons such as career opportunities or remarriage, and how geographic restriction conflicts can be resolved through mediation or sound legal advice. Watch to hear how when establishing or modifying geographic restrictions, individuals should consider their impact on the child and parental relationships, and consider solutions for mitigating concerns such as addressing travel costs, utilizing electronic communication, and increasing or decreasing the size of the restricted geography. Full transcript below on the bottom.

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00:01 :
Geographic Restrictions in Texas Family Law – A conversation with Dannielle Simms of Simmslawgroup.com. That is our topic for today. Welcome to the Lawyers and Mediators International Show and Podcast where we discuss law and conflict resolution topics to educate both professionals and everyday people. Catch regular episodes on YouTube and anywhere you get your podcast. Just remember, nothing in these episodes constitutes legal advice, so be sure to talk to a lawyer as cases are fact dependent. Hey everyone, this is Mac Pierre-Louis, attorney, mediator, arbitrator, working throughout Florida and Texas. And today I’m in the office at the podcast studio with a colleague of mine, attorney Dannielle Simms. Dannielle, how are you doing today? I’m doing.

00:51 :
Well, how are you?

00:52 :
Good to have you. And so just so people know, if you ever see me down in the courthouse, you might also see Daninelle because she and I have been working alongside each other over the years, sometimes on a similar case or sometimes as opposing counsel on the same case. But we both bring a lot of experience to our clients and especially in family law cases, of course. And so I’ve invited her today to talk to us about this topic of geographic restrictions in Texas family law, because I know that she is an expert in this sort of stuff. And so I wanted her to just chime in and give you some of her knowledge. So Dannielle, tell us a little about yourself.

01:38 :
So I’m a native Houstonian, first generation American my parents are from the Caribbean so coming over here, you know, my dad’s a lawyer i kind of just decided to be an attorney like him, and I was put in the area of family law. I started off with CPS litigation just because it’s such an interesting area of practice that I don’t think very many people do and then that spun into me just doing basic family law because I started learning that there are just so many things that people need help with, Right? Family is something that will never go away it’s something that there’s so many nuances to it there’s, you know, the merging of assets just in a marriage alone, and then you’re dealing with children issues and just having to navigate that and one of my things is trying to help my clients navigate that, but also helping them and guiding them in making decisions that are for their best interests but also for the best interests of their children. And so I’ve been doing this since about 2013 and I really enjoy it.

02:41 :
Yes and so thank you for that and your website, of course simmslegalgroup.com. People can go check it out if they want to learn more about family law and I know you do a lot of CPS work i’ve seen you do that over the years, as well as estate planning it. I didn’t know that, that was actually new for me.

02:56 :
Oh yeah, those things go part and parcel, right we’re sitting here and where we are in family law, we are often dividing assets or we’re often helping people with making decisions for children and so those things all come together because while we’re planning for now, we’ve got a plan for the future and a lot of these people are doing things that they want to benefit their kids in the future and so why not help them do that to.

03:20 :
Yes. And so before we segue over to the topic for today, geographic restrictions in Texas family law, one thing we want to make sure people know is, you know, sometimes we see each other in the hallway. We’ll say hello and sometimes we’ve had cases up against each other and so we want people to know out there that simply because lawyers work together does not mean that there’s any kind of conflict. And that I just got to make sure that’s said due to the fact that I’ve had lots of lawyers on this show and some of them have been my colleagues who worked alongside me or against me. It all depends but we all as attorneys work zealously for our clients we want to make sure that if we’re on a case together and you represent one party, I represent the other party, we’re going to be working against each other effectively, professionally, ethically, per the law. And just got to put it out there just because, you know, we’re attorneys and we all know each other, you know, in this very small field. All right. So what is geographic restrictions? We hear, hear about this, people Google this stuff. They go and you know, put into the Internet questions that they might have about how do you deal when you have to move, how do you deal when a parent is trying to lock you down? What if you get a job? So First off, Dannielle, can you talk to us a little bit about the topic. Is it in the law? And where exactly is it and I can share my screen to point people to the section in the law if you’d like.

04:59 :
Let’s go ahead and share that screen. So the question is it in the law. I mean, when the answer is yes the short answer is yes. I mean when these judges are making decisions or when you guys, you guys being the litigants are coming to decisions regarding cases that involve children, that’s very important to distinguish, I don’t want anybody who is not in a case that’s involving a child to think that there will be a geographic restriction. But when there’s a case involving a children, children excuse me. The idea is to create a small enough living space to where each party or each parent or each non-parent or each conservator I should say it like that, has enough access to the child. And so part of what that is yes, it’s codified that the court will make a decision on where everybody should live that fosters a good relationship between that child and any conservator and or parent that the court names as a, as a person who needs to have access to that child. More specifically, you’re looking at Section 153.143 of the Texas Family Code, particularly Part B, which talks about Part B1 and Part B2 which talk about whether or not the courts need to establish a geographic area within for those parties to live, or whether they can make an area without regard to geographic restriction.

06:25 :
Yes. So for the overall theory of why this is even in the law, it’s because there’s a public policy behind it, right? Right like we want parents to be around their kids, right that tends to make sense. However, when two parents are not together anymore, right? They’re split up, divorced or separated, they got a kid in common. We got to find a way as a society to help foster that relationship to stay intact, right. So Dannielle what’s what typically then do you see where this comes up a whole lot, where this controversy comes up where this area of the law needs to be discussed?

07:02 :
Well, OK, let’s talk reality here. When we are in situations where there’s litigation, particularly to where we have to talk about geographic restrictions or we have to talk about joint managing conservatorship or time with children, you are dealing with two people who either have never been in a relationship or cannot be in a relationship with each other. And sometimes you are dealing with non parents who are having to go up against parents and essentially step into their shoes, stepped into what is a constitutional right of an individual and overcome that. So often times what you’ll see is animus, right you’ll see animus between the parties and that is why that area of the code is there it’s to make sure that any animus that you may have with the other individual, and I’m not saying this for everybody, you have a large amount of people who can co-parent; you have a large amount of people who do recognize that mom or dad need to be able to see kiddo before the people who are seeing red with each other and can’t stand to be around that person or you know cannot be in a relationship with that person, cannot communicate with that person. Courts are there to make sure that neither individual takes that child and runs essentially right so you’re going to see a lot of geographic restriction issues in divorces you’re going to see them in those custody cases. You’re going to see them in those attorney general cases you’re going to see them in those cases that a lot of people will call child support court you’re going to see a lot of that simply because the idea is make sure that the other person can see that child, and make sure that there is not one person that gets to unilaterally decide where that child ends up, to the detriment of the other parents and their relationship with that child.

08:44 :
Yes, and we can talk about examples and of course everyone knows, as we said in the intro to this episode, this is not legal advice, right? Right so everything is fact dependent of course so get a lawyer and ask them your specific set of facts and run it by them so they can consider the law and give you an opinion. But let’s talk examples you mentioned the Attorney General, for example, I used to work with the Attorney General years ago. And as you know and I, we typically would put court orders together for parents; most of them didn’t have lawyers. And that section would always come up about whether or not there was going to be a geographic restriction. And 90% of the time, we would put it right as a default position by the court. And sometimes parents fought it. Usually it was a mom, OK, who would say something like, you know, I don’t have family here, I don’t want to be locked down. And sometimes I would say something like, well, it’s not about you, it’s the child. It’s the child’s residence that has to be restricted geographically for the sake of the other parent. But maybe we can make a deal on it, OK, and talk to the other parent but is that your experience as well that typically that it’s a default position by the courts to want to have a restriction automatically in there as per the code? The code gives you an option, but do you agree that it tends to be the default position by the courts?

10:07 :
Yes, I would agree and most times you’re going to see a geographic restriction when you don’t see one and we’re going to talk about the Attorney General cases only because just in my experience, in the rare occasion that I see one without a geographic restriction, I’m always surprised. And just so we’re clear with everybody, typically my experience with geographic restrictions, especially here in Harris County, Texas, where I do a large amount of my practice, it’s usually Harris County, Texas, right, And every county and contiguous counties. And when you say contiguous counties, it’s every county that touches Harris County. So it’s a wide area. Ok. So a lot of times when I’m seeing those parents, I’m going to say dads, too, just because I’m the woman over here and it’s not always the moms of the issues. I will say that a lot of times you’ll see somebody say, well, i want to be able to move to Dallas and I have to say, well, Sir, did you ever live in Dallas? Question, The answer is generally no sometimes it’s yes, sometimes it’s yes. And then I have to say, well, Sir or ma’am, how long have you lived in Houston? Sometimes that answer will be a long time. And so then I have to turn around and go, well, you have connects here, you have ties here that child knows here, that child has family here and you built a life here you have friends here. And so odds are you’re going to get a geographic restriction. Not always, but it is fact dependent.

11:32 :
Yeah And so that’s so that the answer is the first concern of what do the courts tend to do they will tend to want a restriction, but let’s talk about situations where it becomes a contest. I think a common one is I don’t have family here, right that’s a reason you hear sometimes people dispute and they don’t want it. Another reason is life changes and circumstances change and you might be locked down with a geographic restriction, but you need a change because of some exigent circumstance a lot of times not something you can’t control, right oK, The most common one I would probably say is remarriage with somebody else and you want to move away. So what other reasons do you think that people have a contest with this?

12:19 :
So yes, the remarriage one I think is, if not like the top, it’s definitely at the very top. There’s also, I got a new job, right i’ve got a career and it’s going to take me someplace else and that career is going to better my family it’s not, you know, you do see some people who say I’ve got another career and I kind of look and go, OK, but is it something that you have to take? And sometimes the answer is no, but sometimes, especially in these relocation cases, you will see people who are going, look, this career is a really good opportunity for me and it’s going to do really well, not only for me financially but also for the child just for long term planning. And so there’s things like that. The other thing is, hey, the other parent moved, why should I be stuck here, which, you know, there’s language in orders that kind of cover that issue but there is that. But i would tend to agree with you in that the number one thing is I’m following a new spouse. And I mean, there’s also the folks who are following people who are not quite the spouse yet, but the intent is for them to be the spouse.

13:24 :
Exactly you know, so Dannielle, I did a video on this topic of restrictions on geography about 2017 All right so this is, we’re in 2024 now it’s been a really long time. That video has garnered thousands of views over the years and we’re doing the talk again because it hasn’t gone away. No right and so this issue, when you then have the problem, it comes up as a contest what are some solutions what are some things people can do? Like when you go to mediation, what are some solutions people might be able to think through and say, you know what, that’s a possible way I could fix this. What are solutions to this topic when it comes up as a fight?

14:03 :
When we’re talking about just geographic restrictions and establishing them in general, guys, one of the things that I think people need to think about depending on your facts, right, because we’re not giving legal advice, but we are wanting everyone to put their thinking caps on when we’re talking about this topic in particular, start really thinking about is a geographic restriction going to hurt me? Meaning do I actually have a plan to leave the area that I’m generally in. The reason I say that and I use, I use the Dallas example because people love to say Dallas, but I think it’s just because we’re here in Houston so people love saying Dallas, I have to go what real plans do you have to go to Dallas? If you’re going to go to Dallas, where are you working where are you living what exactly is out in Dallas? And then turn around and go, how is this going to impact the child? Because at the end of the day, one of the things that and I everybody hates when I say this, but we’re all looking at best interest of the child and best interest while codified is still just something that’s fluid and ever moving. So the question becomes what is in that child’s best interest and if you were to move, if and when you move, if you were to move, what are you going to be prepared to do to make sure that kid has a relationship with the other parent. In addition, people also need to think about the fact that when we’re expanding these Geo restrictions, sometimes you’re going to see travel, right? Yeah and when you’re dealing with things like costs and you’re dealing with things like child support, if you are the person that’s receiving it and then you move and it starts costing me money to see my child, I’m going to turn around and go, well, judge, I need credit for that travel because that’s what I would do, right if I’m if I’m representing the person that is steadfast and isn’t moving and has the Child Support obligation, and then I’m going to say I’m going to refer to it, refer to the person as a man because I don’t want us to be sexist or anything like that. But if Daniel decides I want to move, and Daniel is the one that is designating the primary residence of that child, and Daniel wants to continue to designate the primary residence of that child, well, I’m definitely going to want some credit for having to travel back and forth with the child in order to exercise my time.

16:20 :
Yes, so when that situation happens and a parent takes a child or the other parents like paying child support, one fix might be OK we can address it where the other parent can take the child further away, but you get some money back in your pocket to help address the concerns of cost. Another solution as a mediator, of course, I’m always in the world of trying to help people resolve these kind of conflicts. And so another solution that we can think about is maybe putting a broader, more expanded area of geographic restrictions so that you don’t have to be stuck necessarily in such a limited area of like Harris Count- contiguous, but something broader. Maybe time might be a factor or age, right so maybe we might say fine, as long as the child is under 10, we’re going to have to keep the child locked down this area. But once a child gets, you know, I don’t know, 10 or over 11 or 12 agree on a number, on an age, you’d be able to lift the restriction and have more flexibility. Still another you know, having electronic access, having the parent be able to speak to the child every day electronically on FaceTime on video. That might mitigate a lot of the concerns that you might have about not seeing your kid all the time.

17:32 :
But there’s also meeting halfway guys, if you if you truly need to move some of the other things, that can incentivize the other parent to be agreeable if we’re talking in the context of settlement, there’s the idea of meeting halfway, picking a halfway point between where you move to and where this other person lives and meeting. Then there’s also the other side of me that there’s my litigator brain, right because my brain immediately goes, well, if you want to move somewhere, you got to get that kid back to so and so’s house and you need to drop that kid off on their front steps. There’s things like that but in the spirit of making sure that we’re Co-parenting and not just arguing for the sake of arguing, yes, there are there are many options, which would include making a bigger geographic area. I’ve had several cases where the geographic area has been Texas and Georgia for example. Things like that happen. But in those types of situations there’s always credit for travel. But that’s generally and I don’t know what this says about me, but I’m generally representing the parent that is saying, hey, if you want to move, I need some. I need to be able to have a financial reprieve because I do want to see my child.

18:43 :
Yes. And so they it could be as small of a area as the what the city you live in, the county you live in to possibly, or maybe even the school district boundaries. I’ve seen that happen before where you say both parents must. Well, the child’s address must be within a certain school district. That will keep the parents very close. But it could be as abroad as no restriction at all. If there’s no restriction, then in theory that parent could take the child, the custodial parent, to anywhere in the world, right and that could become a problem if you want to keep both parents in the child’s life. So, you know, as a mediator, I always think there has to be somewhere in between, you know, the small area of a school district to the whole country, must be something in between. So usually people are able to resolve this issue. But if not, we kind of know where the courts are going to go, right and This is why you got to have a lawyer to argue the facts.

19:43 :
Right and I think that one of the things that people need to understand is I think the geographic restriction is something that you’re likely to get, but there are times when you’re not, you know, so don’t feel like we’re just stuck with this restriction but you need to understand that when you want to rebut what is normal, I’ll say normal these are my air quotes. When you are rebutting what is considered normal or when you are rebutting what is considered to be just run of the mill status quo, you have to have the facts and it can’t just be, I don’t want to. It’s got to be. This is why and this is the potential plan and this is where this could take me. It cannot just be I don’t want to or I don’t like so and so anymore. You don’t want that.

20:29 :
Exactly. Well, Dannielle , guess what it’s been 20 minutes and so we like to keep these short and to the point so that you can get the information that you want, of course it’s not legal advice. Check Dannielle out simmslawgroup.com and you can contact her everything is there, email, phone number and learn more about her if you want to get more information. And of course Mac Pierre-Louis as always. All right, guys, until next time we’re gonna be doing more of these videos, so tune back on to lmipodcast.com, YouTube channel, Twitter (X) we’re everywhere. And we’ll keep talking about the law and conflict resolution. Ok. Dannielle , thank you so much for coming in.

21:09 :
Today I had a great time but just one thing. Get better lighting. That’s all I’m saying. That’s all I’m saying. Thanks.

21:16 :
Guys, we’ll work on the lighting? All right, guys, Until next time, take care. Bye, bye.

Lawyer, mediator, arbitrator, practicing family law but passionate about helping people resolve their conflicts and disputes through mediation. MacpierreLouis.com