The 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth issued a very important opinion today in a big win for O’Neil Wysocki’s appellate team on Michelle O’Neil and Karri Bertrand. The underlying order awarded Father the exclusive right to determine the children’s primary residence without regard to geographic restriction and gave each parent the independent right to make educational decisions. Mother filed to modify the orders and sought temporary orders in the modification suit. The trial court left the primary designation with Father but ordered the children to be enrolled in the Mother’s school district. In the intial hearing, the trial court made no finding of significant impairment, but later entered such finding.

This issue has been an open question in modification litigation, as to the meaning of Texas Family Code section 156.006, but is now determined.

In 2017, the Legislature changed 156.006 to include “or the effect of changing or eliminating the geographic area within which a conservator must maintain the child’s primary residence”. Based on this language, the 2nd Court of Appeals held today that limiting the school district within which the children must attend school such order had the effect of changing the primary designation. Thus, the elevated standard — significant impairment — would apply to make such changes in a temporary hearing in a modification suit.

Because section 156.006(b) precludes a trial court from issuing
an order effecting a change in the designation of the person having the right to
designate the children’s primary residence without evidence triggering a statutory
exception to this prohibition, the trial court abused its discretion by effectively
creating a geographic area in which Father must maintain the children’s primary
residence [by restricting the designation of the school].

Read the entire opinion here: Wells opinion

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, 2011-2018, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. In 2014-2018, Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America for 2016 and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.