Amend/update divorce decree.
January 2, 2017 7:47 AM   Subscribe

You are not my divorce attorney, but perhaps you can 1. recommend one in the Houston, TX area and/or 2. tell me if my plan to request that the court change our existing divorce decree has a reasonable chance of success.

My ex-wife and I divorced through mediation one year ago. We have two children, a 5yo daughter and a 3yo son, and we split custody 50/50. Since our divorce, I have met and become engaged to another woman with children of her own. We plan to marry and move into her home as soon as possible.

Our decree states that we will not move the children out of Harris County "until modified by further order of the court or by written agreement signed by the parties and filed with the court". As I recall this was decided somewhat arbitrarily, without much discussion.

My fiance lives about 13 miles north of the Harris County line. We have taken great care to make sure that my children's lives will benefit, not suffer, from this move. Their day-to-day lives will be enhanced by a new, loving family. My ex-wife has refused to amend our agreement based on the new distance from their school. However, the decree doesn't specify that we remain in their school district. Also, Harris County is huge. We could easily move within it and be much farther from their school than my fiance's home. Furthermore, if she chooses to stay in district they will stay at this school, and on our end the kids' schedules won't be affected besides some additional drive time.

I guess I'd like to hear anyone's thoughts on our chance of success in persuading the court to modify the decree without my ex-wife's consent (based on this change in my marital status, etc.). And if anyone can recommend an attorney in our area, that would also be very helpful.
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas to Law & Government (7 answers total)
snickerdoodle (and others with legitimate, good-hearted questions about this situation): I specifically did not address the matters you bring up because I do not want them to become the focus of this AskMe. So I hope that it'll suffice for me to answer all of them with a sincere yes. And it is (of course) an ongoing process that we are handling with as much attention and sensitivity as possible.

I hope I'm not being a jerk by requesting that any further responses answer the questions I raised, and that I am in no way unaware of the pitfalls of this process. My children are flourishing, honest.
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 9:34 AM on January 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

The problem is that all those other questions will be brought up by the judge. Consistency is good for kids, and you're the one trying to change that. And not for economic reasons, but because you just replaced their mom with a woman who doesn't want to sell and buy a new home. And 50% of the parents don't consent to the change!

It's a huge perception hurdle to jump.

Moving 13 miles south on 45 is the much easier option. If you want a shot at winning, you better have solid reasons why the alternatives are worse for your kids.
posted by politikitty at 10:05 AM on January 2, 2017 [8 favorites]

IANAL, but I proofread a lot of family law depos in the Harris County area about this exact issue and geographical restrictions to Harris County is absolutely commonplace as is the add-on of "contiguous counties."

You're getting a lot of comments here that are mild compared to what your ex's lawyer is going to bombard you with at the deposition, in my opinion.

You could always make a few appointments and see what they say the chances are, but I got to tell you, seems like politikitty's got the right idea. I know the housing market is not the best right now in Houston, but still seems like that be much cheaper than a great lawyer and would cause a lot less problems with future co-parenting. Best of luck to you.
posted by not that mimi at 10:21 AM on January 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

I asked my husband (a divorce lawyer, but not your divorce lawyer and not a divorce lawyer in your state) about your issue. He said here you'd have a very good chance of being successful.

He said geographic restrictions are to prevent disruptions in parenting time etc and if your ex's time will remain the same and the extra driving burden is on you, it shouldn't be a big deal to change.

Contact the local bar association for references.
posted by chaoticgood at 3:11 PM on January 2, 2017

Most likely outcome of doing this on a contested basis is that you are allowed to move but have to trade back from 50/50 to a more standard Wednesday dinner and every other weekend deal. Tying primary custody (and 50/50 is primary for each) to staying in the county where the marriage was most recently domiciled is very common for very good reasons and the farthest thing from arbitrary. (If the lawyers didn't discuss it its because its commonality made it not worth mentioning.) A party seeking a voluntary (i.e., you're choosing to remarry, it's not about deployment or unemployment, etc.) modification to so recent a mutual agreement isn't sympathetic. Upending your kids' and ex's life in order to be able to live with your new stepchildren is even less sympathetic.
posted by MattD at 3:22 PM on January 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

You need local legal advice, from someone experienced in relocation cases with the integrity to give you a realistic accounting of the chances and costs and timeframes.

IANYL. Seriously even if you go to court and win in a reasonable amount of time and still have some money left over... you may still lose. The co parenting thing you are doing with your ex wife is a life time project. If you were able to divorce with meditation, that's a positive sign. Do you trust and respect her as your kids' mom? Unless she's (legitimately) lost your trust, the damage that taking this to court could cause your co parenting relationship, and by extension, your kids, may not be worth it. Being patient and hearing her concerns and respecting her on this could lead to the result you want much faster than a contested court process, even if it takes years. Even if she is responding somewhat emotionally and less than perfectly rationally now, and even if you actually are as much in possession of superior judgment to her as you describe yourself here.

And if she has legitimately lost your trust in her parenting, then you need a much more comprehensive and tactical legal approach to protecting your kids, and may well need to sacrifice your immediate interest to move to your fiancee's home to the long term goal of safe guarding your kids.

Local lawyer and please prepare yourself to not be able to have everything exactly as would best suit you within the super quick time frame you've described.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:55 PM on January 2, 2017 [5 favorites]

I think it's important to remember that custody modifications are usually for the benefit of the children, not the parents. Your life may in fact be radically improved by marrying your new fiancé and moving in with her and her kids! But the courts expect you to put your own children first before either your interests or your potential step-children's interests.

If your argument is that they will then be part of a "new, loving family", that is just not a very compelling argument, especially because you can't guarantee it - there are a lot of factors and this is all happening very fast. Your sensitivity to the issue is understandable, but this is absolutely a thing an opposing attorney could exploit. It comes off really, really badly.

Is the neighborhood better? Are there more activities? What would be the tangible benefits of moving them?
posted by corb at 7:50 AM on January 3, 2017

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