Lately, I’ve had a flurry of cases aimed at modifying one or more children’s issues in a divorce decree from a distant Texas county. One centered on lifting a geographic restriction on the children’s residence levied in a decree from Harris County. Another centered on defending against a request to modify the custody determination in a decree from Coryell County. Another centered on a request to modify child support in a decree from Wichita County. In each of these cases, the court that rendered the final order (i.e. the divorce decree) acquired something known as “continuing exclusive jurisdiction,” or CEJ for short.
CEJ means only that court has jurisdiction to modify or enforce its orders. CEJ can be lost, however, if the children have lived in another Texas county for six months or longer. In such a scenario, the courts with CEJ in the distant county face a mandatory transfer of the case to the child’s new county of residence.
Triggering mandatory transfer requires that a petition (or answer) in a suit to modify the prior orders be filed in the court with CEJ (i.e. in the court in the distant county). Simultaneously, a motion to transfer the case must be filed that recites that the new county of residence (e.g. Bexar County) has acquired jurisdiction based on the children’s residence of six months or longer in that new county. Notice of the motion to transfer must be served on the opposing party, typically through their attorney. The other party has roughly three weeks to challenge the motion to transfer (e.g. argue that the child has not lived in the new county for the requisite time). If no challenge is timely made, the court in the distant county must transfer the case without the necessity of a hearing.
The advent of electronic case filing (which is available in many, but not all, Texas counties) made it possible in each of the three scenarios for me to file the petition to modify (or answer to the other side’s petition) and motion to transfer without ever leaving the comfort of my office. Remember, when the motion to transfer is unchallenged, the transfer order gets signed by the relinquishing court without the necessity of a hearing in the distant county.
Electronic filing, when available, yields a cost-efficient solution for clients. Once the order is signed, the case is transfer by the relinquishing district clerk’s office to the gaining district clerk’s office in several short weeks. Then, the heart of the matter proceeds in the new court. In the end, effecting transfer of a case adds roughly two months’ time to the case’s life cycle.
Author Jim Cramp is a retired active duty colonel and principal attorney at the Cramp Law Firm. The Cramp Law Firm provides a spectrum of family-related legal services in the greater San Antonio Region.