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Dallas Court of Appeals grants mandamus: trial court imposed greater burden for relocation than law allows

Last Friday, November 12, 2009, its opinion styled In re Cooper, No. 05-09-00995-CV, the Dallas Court of Appeals conditionally granted wife’s petition for mandamus relief, holding the trial judge abused her discretion by imposing a residency residency restriction pending final trial in a divorce case that required wife, temporary primary conservator of the parties two children, to relocate from North Carolina, where she had secured employment and owned a house, to Dallas and contiguous counties, where she had neither.

In Cooper, wife testified at the hearing on her motion to modify agreed temporary orders, that she had applied for jobs in Dallas with schedules that would allow for her to spend time with her children, but was unsuccessful. Wife ultimately accepted the only position she was offered, which was in North Carolina. The trial judge did not consider wife’s efforts at procuring employment in Dallas successful, denying wife’s request to modify agreed temporary orders, which interestingly allowed wife to reside in South Carolina with the children pending completion of her residency program, because she failed to establish that she made "extreme efforts’ to find employment in the Dallas area. The trial court stated in her ruling that wife should have made Dallas a priority in her job search by "leaps and bounds" since that is where husband resided and where wife and the children had resided prior to initiation of the divorce case. Since wife failed to establish that she made sufficient efforts according to this standard, the trial judge ruled in husband’s favor. Wife then filed her Petition for Writ of Mandamus, seeking relief .

The opinion from the Dallas Court of Appeals, authored by Justice Bridges, concludes that the trial judge abused her discretion by imposing a greater burden on wife than the law allows. The Court notes that no authority supports the trial court’s requirement that wife make "extreme efforts" to find employment within Dallas and contiguous counties. Instead, the Court cited Lenz v. Lenz, as the correct standard, allowing for the modification of residency restrictions to allow the custodial parent to relocate when the proposed relocation will significantly improve the custodial parent’s economic circumstances to the child’s benefit. Lenz v. Lenz, 79 S.W.3d 10, 17 (Tex. 2002). The Court further found wife had no adequate remedy at law since compliance with the trial court’s temporary orders required her to choose between custody of her children and financial ruin. Therefore, wife’s petition for writ of mandamus was granted.

This case is relevant to lawyers that practice in Dallas county, and other areas of Texas as well. With the current state of the economy, at Dallas Divorce Law, either our clients or the opposing party is often in a position where they are forced to search for other employment in Dallas county and beyond. People frequently relocate to other counties or states for their current job or to find a new one. When modifying a residency restriction, either before the final trial in temporary orders or in a modification proceeding, focus on the Lenz factors in making your case for relocation and keep the Cooper opinion in mind.