As your circumstances change, you may also seek to change your environment. Florida law has specific guidelines for how a custody arrangement may or may not change for parents intending to relocate a significant distance. In this blog, we will go over the petition for relocation with the court and what factors a court may consider to make the final decision on relocation.
Petitioning for Relocation
If a parent intends to relocate, they will need to negotiate with the other parent and the court, as their relocation could impact a standing child custody agreement. Note that Florida law defines a relocation as a parent moving 50 miles or more from their current residence for at least 60 days. A relocation should be a permanent change, not a temporary one such as for vacation, education, or medical care.
Parents may agree to one parent’s relocation by signing a written agreement between them that spells out the terms of the move and the new custody arrangement. Specifically, the agreement must:
- show that both parents agree to the relocation;
- detail a time-sharing schedule for the non-relocating parent; and
- state how the parents will handle transportation of the child for visitation periods.
Subsequently, the parents should file their signed contract with the court and request that it be ratified without having to attend a formal hearing.
If the parents cannot agree to the relocation, however, the relocating parent must file a petition to relocate with the court and serve it on the other parent. The petition must establish:
- the address and phone number of the place the parent wishes to relocate;
- the date of the proposed relocation;
- the reasons for the relocation, such as a copy of a written job offer requiring relocation;
- the proposed visitation schedule after relocation; and
- the proposed plan for transportation between both parents.
After the non-relocating parent is served with the above notice, they have 20 days to file a response. The response should include reasons they believe the move shouldn’t be allowed and a statement of how much the non-relocating parent participates in the child’s life. If the non-relocating parent does not respond to the notice, however, the court can grant the relocation request by default without a hearing.
Be aware that if a parent relocates without obtaining court approval, a judge may find them in contempt of court. This could result in ordering the parent to return the child, pay the other parents’ attorneys’ fees, face modification of the custody arrangement in favor of the other parent, and deal with other penalties. So, if you are a parent seeking to relocate without jeopardizing your time with your child, it is imperative that you communicate with the other parent and work with the court to reach a legal agreement.
Considering the Child’s Best Interests
As with any child custody decision, the court must examine the child’s best interests to approve the relocation decision. Such factors include:
- the child’s relationship with both parents;
- the child’s age and current needs;
- the impact the move will have on the child’s development;
- the ability to maintain the relationship between the child and the non-relocating parent;
- cost and logistics to maintain visitation between the child and non-relocating parent;
- the child’s preference;
- whether the relocation will improve the lives of the parent and child;
- the parents’ reasons for and against the relocation;
- whether the relocation is necessary for financial reasons;
- whether the relocating parent is attempting to move for good faith reasons;
- whether the non-relocating parent has complied with paying child support, alimony, and division of marital property (if applicable);
- whether either parent has had a history of substance abuse or domestic violence; and
- any other relevant factor.
Important reasons for a parent’s move impacting the court’s decision could be if a parent has received a job offer requiring them to move, in which case a move is justified, or if a parent has experienced a fallout with the other and is seeking to move merely to cut off ties on their child’s behalf, in which case a move may not be justified.
Note that the parent seeking to relocate has the burden of proving that the move is in the child’s best interest. They may do so in a hearing scheduled by the court within 30 days of the relocation motion being filed or a trial within 90 days of the filed motion.
Let an Experienced Lawyer Help You and Your Child
If you plan to permanently relocate 50 miles or more from your current residence, you can petition for a change in your child custody arrangement to ensure you can still maintain a relationship with your child. The duration of the petition process will depend on whether the other parent agrees to the move or whether you will need to file a petition to relocate with the court. In any case, the court will consider the child’s best interests to determine the appropriate custody arrangement for your relocation. Contact a lawyer for legal support in building your case for relocation and ensuring your and your child’s rights are protected by any court decision.
Contact Orshan, Spann & Fernandez-Mesa, Family Law Attorneys for more information.