When the parents of a child do not live together, there is always a chance that one partner will want (or need) to relocate. Occasionally, this move is only a few mile. Unfortunately, when greater distances are involved, the existing Parenting Plan not longer works.
Florida Statute 61.13001 contains provisions that parents are required to follow if one of them wishes to relocate. This statute applies to both parents – no matter which parent the child “lives” with.
The statute defines a “relocation” as a “change in the location of the principal residence of a parent… 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.” Additionally, the relocation must be 50 miles from the previous residence and for at least 60 consecutive days. A relocation does not include an absence from the primary residence for vacation, education, or medical treatment for the child.
If you wish to relocate with your child, the statute mandates that you either:
- get a written agreement with the other parent (i.e. a new Parenting Plan), or
- file and serve on the other parent a Petition to Relocate
All written agreements under this statute must:
- set out the new time-sharing schedule that the parents will live with after the relocation
- set out the transportation agreement that will go into effect after the relocation (regarding timing, place, and cost)
- reflect any other agreement reached by the parents
Lastly, when there is an agreement between the parents, the statute requires that the agreement have the approval of a judge. Typically the agreement is mailed to the judge for his or her signature. A hearing is not usually necessary.
When it is not possible to reach an agreement, the potentially relocating parent is required to file a Petition to Relocate. This petition must be served on the other parent and must include:
- the location of the proposed residence with the specific address if already known
- the new mailing address, if different from the physical address
- the intended residence’s phone number – if already known
- the date of the proposed relocation or intended move
- the specific reason or reasons for the relocation. If the relocation is for employment, the copy of the written job offer must be attached to the Petition
- a revised Parenting Plan that would exist if the relocation is approved that addresses the issues of time sharing and transportation
- this specific statement provided by the statute that advises the other parent of their rights: A RESPONSE TO THE PETITION OBJECTING TO RELOCATION MUST BE MADE IN WRITING, FILED WITH THE COURT, AND SERVED ON THE PARENT OR OTHER PERSON SEEKING TO RELOCATE WITHIN 20 DAYS AFTER SERVICE OF THIS PETITION TO RELOCATE. IF YOU FAIL TO TIMELY OBJECT TO THE RELOCATION, THE RELOCATION WILL BE ALLOWED, UNLESS IT IS NOT IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD, WITHOUT FURTHER NOTICE AND WITHOUT A HEARING.
After being served, the other parent has twenty (20) days to file an objection to the proposed relocation. The response has to include the reason or reasons why the parent is objecting to the proposed relocation. The response must also include a statement detailing the amount of involvement or participation that the objecting party has had or currently has in the child’s life.
If the parent being served fail to object within the twenty (20) time period, the judge must assume that the relocation is in the child’s best interests and allow the relocation. In this instance the judge must enter an Order allowing the relocation and adopting the Parenting Plan proposed by the relocating parent.
If the parent being served does file an objection, then there must be a hearing on whether or not to allow the relocation.
During the hearing, the judge will neither presume that the relocation should be allowed nor that it should not be allowed – so long as the existing schedule of time-sharing, access and contact with the non-relocating parent would be materially affected.
At the start of the hearing, the parent requesting the relocation must prove – by a preponderance of the evidence – that the child’s best interests would be served by the relocation. If this burden is not met, the the relocation is not allowed. If this burden is met then the burden shifts to the other parent to prove that the move would not be in the child’s best interest.
When considering a decision on what is in the child’s best interests, the Court must consider all of these factors:
- the duration, extent of involvement, quality and nature of the minor child’s involvement with the person proposing the relocation with the child as well as with the other parent, siblings, half siblings and other persons of significance in the child’s life.
- the child’s age and stage of development, the child’s needs, the relocation’s likely impact on the child’s physical, emotional and educational development (including consideration of any special needs).
- to the extent feasible, the possibility of preserving the relationship between the non-relocating parent and the child by other means that consider access, time-sharing, and the logistics of contact – including the financial means of the parties; and whether these factors are enough for a continuing meaningful relationship between the non-relocating parent and the child, as well as the likelihood that the relocating parent complies with the new plan after that parent is outside the jurisdiction of the Court.
- the preference of the minor child – considering the child’s maturity and age.
- If the proposed relocation will increase the quality of life of the child and the relocating parent – including financial benefits, emotional benefits, and educational opportunities.
- The relocating parent’s reason for the relocation.
- Whether the proposed relocation will improve the economic circumstances of the relocating parent.
- Whether the relocation is sought in good faith as well as whether th e objecting parent has complied with their obligations of child support and alimony.
- If the relocation occurs, the career and other opportunities available to the objecting parent.
- Any history of domestic violence or substance abuse by either parent
- As defined by Fla. Stat. 61.13, any other factors that affects the child’s best interests.
Sometimes, the relocating parent does not comply with the requirements of Fla. Stat. 61.13001. In those cases, the parent may be subject to contempt and may be required to return the child. Also, the failure of the relocating parent to comply with the provision of the statute may be considered by a judge when making a decision about whether a Parenting Plan should be modified or as a reason for ordering the return of the child.
In my experience, these decisions are often very difficult for judges. Often, a proposed relocation in not in the best interests of one of the parents. Unfortunately for that parent, their best interest is not relevant to the Court.
Consider this example: Suppose that a divorced mother and father both live separately in the Orlando area. Their 10 year old child lives primarily with the mother. The father is very involved with the child. The child has a large extended family in the area. The mother receives a job offer that would require her to move to California – where neither the mother or child has family or friends.
It is possible that the judge could deny the mother’s request for a relocation. The judge could decide that the relocation would negatively impact the child due to the loss of frequent contact with the father and other family members. The judge might make a different decision of the father had less frequent contact with the child or of the mother were proposing a closer relocation.
A few final points on relocation:
- One parent’s requested relocation does not create a “substantial change of circumstances” which the other parent could use to modify the majority time sharing provisions of the Final Judgment.
- If a relocation is allowed, it is very likely that the child support amount will change since the number of nights that each parent spends with the child will change.
As a result of the many factors that go into a judge’s ruling, you should consider consulting with an experienced family law attorney when thinking of a relocation.