It is not uncommon for one parent involved in an ongoing divorce proceeding or who is already divorced to want to relocate to another place. In Florida there’s no prohibition against parental relocation. One parent can move to wherever he or she wants whether the Florida divorce case is underway or over with. The problem, however, comes when the relocating parent wants to take one of the children. These are some of the most difficult cases. It’s an all or nothing proposition, usually; one parent will have the children and the other will be left behind.
There are many good reasons why a parent might want to relocate. Typically the reasons have to do with money; either a better paying job or economic opportunity beckons, or a lack of money necessitates the custodial parent getting help from a family support system located somewhere else, i.e. mom’s family is in Delaware, she can’t afford her home or day care and her family will help out. Other reasons involve new relationships, i.e. mom has a new man in her life and he lives somewhere else or is moving. Understandably, she does not want to lose the relationship and it won’t last long distance.
These are all good reasons to leave one place for another and let’s assume for the purposes of this discussion that the reason for the relocation is a good one, and in the best interests of the relocating parent. Is that it? Is that all that’s necessary? Can that parent simply pick up the children from school on Friday and move from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to New York City on Saturday, enroll the children in a new school on Monday? Is that all there is to it? Not hardly.
If the children are living with mom and dad has a generous timesharing plan, how is he going to continue seeing his children on a day to day or weekly basis? How is a close father/child bond going to be fostered if the kids move from being nearby to being hundreds or thousands of miles away? Common sense tells you that the lives of the children and both parents, and the significant others, and family members will all change if the children are relocated.
What is the definition of relocation in Florida?
“Relocation” means a change in the location of the principal residence of a parent or other person from his or her principal place of residence at the time of the last order establishing or modifying time-sharing, or at the time of filing the pending action to establish or modify time-sharing. The change of location must be at least 50 miles from that residence, and for at least 60 consecutive days not including a temporary absence from the principal residence for purposes of vacation, education, or the provision of health care for the child.
Who decides if a parent can relocate with the children?
In Florida a parent can relocate with a minor child of the marriage if:
1. The parents and every other person entitled to access to or time-sharing with the child agrees to the relocation of the child, which agreement must be ratified by a Florida circuit court judge if there is an existing cause of action, judgment or decree of record pertaining to the child’s residence or time-sharing schedule; or
2. A petition to relocate is filed by the parent seeking to relocate and serves it upon the other parent, and every other person entitled to access to or time-sharing with the child and an order is obtained from a Florida circuit court judge.
Relocating a child without complying with these requirements subjects the party in violation to contempt and other proceedings to compel the return of the child and may be taken into account by the court in any action seeking a determination or modification of the parenting plan or the access or time-sharing schedule as:
a. A factor in making a determination regarding the relocation of the child;
b. A factor in determining whether the parenting plan or access or time-sharing schedule should be modified;
- A basis for ordering the temporary or permanent return of the child;
d. Sufficient cause to order the parent or other person seeking to relocate the child to pay reasonable expenses and attorney’s fees incurred by the party objecting to the relocation; and
e. Sufficient cause for the award of reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, including interim travel expenses incident to access or time-sharing or securing the return of the child.
How does a judge decide? What are the considerations?
It would be an oversimplification to say that the judge will decide by determining what’s in the best interests of the child, but that’s pretty much what it always comes down to when children are involved. Too bad the judge doesn’t have a crystal ball to consult. It’s always a hard decision, either way. To take the child away from one parent in favor of another, or to make the child stay to the exclusion of the good reason the relocating parent has. Wouldn’t want to be the judge.
Here are some of the statutory considerations the judge must think about:
(a) The existing relationship the child has with the parents and family members;
(b) The age, stage in life, needs of the child and likely impact relocation will have on the child;
(c) Can a relationship with the non relocating parent be maintained? How will that happen?
(d) What does the child think about it? Is the child old enough to have his opinion count?
(e) Will the quality of life improve for the parent and child?
(f) The reason for the relocation;
(g) The current financial situations of the parties;
(h) Is the relocation sought in good faith and has the non relocating parent fulfilled his/her financial obligations to the other parent and child?
(i) The career and other opportunities available to the objecting parent if the relocation occurs;
(j) Is there a history of substance abuse or domestic violence by either parent; and
(k) Any other factor affecting the best interests of the child.
The relocating parent has the burden of proving at trial that relocation is in the best interest of the child. If the burden is met the objecting parent has to prove that the proposed relocation is not in the best interest of the child.
Miller Law Associates handles Florida parental relocation cases. Visit their website at www.DivorceYes.com.