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Child Custody and Relocation Laws in Florida

Within many divorce proceedings involving minor children, the parents—and other parties entitled to parenting time (or visitation) with the children — will have agreed amongst themselves to a parenting plan as to which parent will have primary physical custody, and who will have visitation rights. With a routine firmly in place, the children typically acclimate to the arrangement as do the parents, and nonparents with access, who become accustomed to the regular time-sharing schedule, the holiday schedules and transportation issues.

However, circumstances do arise when parents wish to relocate. Circumstances that prompt such a move include:

  • A job opportunity in a different part of the state, or in another state, that advances that parent’s career and/or provides a substantial increase in salary
  • Financial difficulties requiring a move to an area where the cost of living is significantly less
  • Remarriage where the new spouse is employed in a different state or more than 50 miles from the parent’s residence
  • Where the child’s special needs, intellectual or other attributes cannot be adequately met or nourished in the present location

In any case, the parent who wishes to relocate is upsetting the current custody and visitation arrangement and likely creating extreme stress for the other parent. Before effectuating the relocation, that parent needs the agreement of the other parent or a court order approving the move. If possible, it is always best to prepare the non-relocating party for the proposed move by meeting, explaining why the move is necessary and how new visitation and time-sharing arrangements can work.

When Can a Parent Relocate?

In Florida, the governing statute pertaining to parents under a custody order who wish to relocate is Section 61.13001 of the Florida Statutes. This pertains to any move that is more than 50 miles from your residence, or where you were living at the time the last custody order or order regarding time-sharing went into effect. There are two methods to achieve this—a signed agreement or by petitioning the court.

Signed Agreement

If you and the other parent are in agreement regarding the relocation, then you may draft an agreement, though having the assistance of a family lawyer is highly recommended. Florida law requires that it contains:

  • Signatures of both parents and of any nonparents who are included in the time-sharing order or parenting plan or who are entitled to access to the child.
  • A time-sharing schedule that explains how access by the non-relocating parent or nonparent, who is entitled to it, is to be accomplished including transportation schedules and responsibility for expenses.

No hearing is required if the parties sign the agreement or plan, and no objection is made within 10 days after the agreement is filed with the court.

Court Petition

If the parties cannot agree, then the relocating parent must file a petition with the court and serve it on all parties, including nonparents who are entitled to access or parenting time. The petition must contain the following:

  1. Physical and mailing address of the proposed new residence.
  2. Phone number, if and when it becomes known.
  3. Date of the relocation.
  4. Detailed statement explaining the purpose of the move. If for new employment, a copy of the written offer, if made, must be attached.
  5. Proposed parenting plan, including a time-sharing schedule, and transportation arrangements and expenses.
  6. A written statement in capital letters in the same size or larger than the type in the rest of the petition that states:

“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.”

The proposed time-sharing and access schedule is absolutely required unless there is an existing order that restricts or terminates time-sharing, or there exists other good cause predating the petition.

Factors the Court Considers

If you have to file a petition, your statement regarding why the relocation is in the best interests of your child must be detailed, but it also must account for the following factors the court considers in whether to grant the order:

  • The nature, quality and extent of the relationship all the involved parties have with the child. The statement must include nonparents with whom the child resides or who have time-sharing rights and are not relocating, as well as siblings and half-siblings and any other significant parties who are not relocating.
  • Age and development stage of the child and the impact the relocation will have on the child’s education, physical and emotional development. If a special needs child, this is particularly relevant.
  • The child’s preference considering age and maturity.
  • The quality of the substitute arrangements, the logistics in maintaining contact and the financial status of the parties. Will the new arrangements maintain a continuing and meaningful relationship with the non-relocating parents or nonparents? How likely is the relocating parent to comply with the new arrangements?
  • Will the relocation enhance the parent and child’s quality of life including educational and financial opportunities?
  • The current employment and financial status of both parents and nonparents having time-sharing or access rights.
  • Whether the relocating parent is petitioning in good faith, and if the non-relocating parent has fulfilled all child support and other financial obligations to the relocating parent.
  • What career and employment opportunities are available to the non-relocating parent or involved nonparent?
  • If domestic abuse or drug abuse is an issue.
  • Any other factors affecting the best interest of the child.

Retain a Family Lawyer

Relocating, if under an existing custody or time-sharing order, can be a complex if not stressful situation. If you are petitioning the court, it can be summarily denied by a court if not carefully drafted with the factors the court considers in mind. Even if you and the non-relocating parent are in agreement, you want a family attorney to submit a well-crafted agreement that the court will approve without the time and expense of a hearing or re-petition, if initially denied.

A highly skilled and knowledgeable family lawyer will discuss your reasons for relocating and advise you of what the court requires before you submit the petition. If you are objecting to the relocation, you will need a family attorney who will listen and counsel you regarding your legal rights.