In today’s mobile society, it is not uncommon for parents to relocate after a divorce either for better employment opportunities or to be closer to a new spouse when that new spouse receives a job transfer. However, if a parent wishes to move with his or her minor child and the proposed move is greater than 50 miles from that parent’s current primary residence and will be for at least 60 consecutive days for a purpose other than a vacation, education or the provision of health care for the child on a temporary basis, then that parent will not be able to just pick up and move with his or her child without first complying with the provisions of the Florida’s relocation statute which is found in Section 61.13001, Florida Statutes.
Such travel restrictions exist because the child has a right to be raised by both parents. Florida’s relocation statute reflects such policy that each child maintain frequent contact with both parents post-divorce. Florida’s relocation statute also addresses the child’s need for stability and continuity that is crucial for positive development in and general well-being of children. Therefore, the parent who desires to relocate, absent an agreement with the other parent, must show the Court how the move will indeed be in the best interests of the child. It is vital to note that it is the best interests of the child that are considered and not whether the move will be beneficial to the relocating parent.
Since the child has the right to have a meaningful relationship with both parents, the parent who desires to relocate must show the Court how that relationship with the other parent will remain meaningful post-relocation. This may require the moving parent to be responsible for the other parent’s access expenses. The moving parent should also be ready to propose a functioning new parenting plan with a realistic and flexible timesharing schedule that would indeed address the child’s right to be raised by both parents post-relocation. This means that the new parenting plan must provide for regular contact with the other parent, both in-person as well as electronic, and address the exchanges as well transportation costs.
The moving parent should also be mindful that the Florida’s relocation statute does allow the non-relocating parent to formally object to a proposed relocation. The non-relocating parent also has rights and Courts do recognize those rights. For example, there have been instances when a petition for relocation has been denied as not being in the best interests of the child, especially when there is extensive involvement by the non-moving parent in the child’s life and the move would all but sever that close parent-child bond. The key is whether a continuing meaningful relationship between the child and the non-relocating parent can be preserved despite relocation.
There are other factors that the Court evaluates to determine whether the proposed relocation is in the best interests of the child. For example, the Court generally considers the following factors:
- The nature, quality, extent of involvement, and duration of the child’s relationship with the parent or other person proposing to relocate with the child and with the nonrelocating parent, other persons, siblings, half-siblings, and other significant persons in the child’s life.
- The age and developmental stage of the child, the needs of the child, and the likely impact the relocation will have on the child’s physical, educational, and emotional development, taking into consideration any special needs of the child.
- The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the nonrelocating parent or other person and the child through substitute arrangements that take into consideration the logistics of contact, access, and time-sharing, as well as the financial circumstances of the parties; whether those factors are sufficient to foster a continuing meaningful relationship between the child and the nonrelocating parent or other person; and the likelihood of compliance with the substitute arrangements by the relocating parent or other person once he or she is out of the jurisdiction of the court.
- The child’s preference, taking into consideration the age and maturity of the child.
- Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for both the parent or other person seeking the relocation and the child, including, but not limited to, financial or emotional benefits or educational opportunities.
- The reasons each parent or other person is seeking or opposing the relocation.
- The current employment and economic circumstances of each parent or other person and whether the proposed relocation is necessary to improve the economic circumstances of the parent or other person seeking relocation of the child.
- That the relocation is sought in good faith and the extent to which the objecting parent has fulfilled his or her financial obligations to the parent or other person seeking relocation, including child support, spousal support, and marital property and marital debt obligations.
- The career and other opportunities available to the objecting parent or other person if the relocation occurs.
- A history of substance abuse or domestic violence as defined in s. 741.28 or which meets the criteria of s. 39.806(1)(d) by either parent, including a consideration of the severity of such conduct and the failure or success of any attempts at rehabilitation.
- Any other factor affecting the best interest of the child or as set forth in s. 61.13.
The relocating parent must also keep in mind that it is the parent wishing to relocate who has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that relocation is in the best interests of the child. It is only if that burden of proof is actually met, would that burden then shift to the non-relocating parent to again show by a preponderance of the evidence how the proposed relocation is not in the best interests of the child.
The relocation cases are very fact-specific and require proper preparation and presentation. Whether you are the one who is pursuing relocation or is objecting to such relocation, you must never forget that a relocation proceeding is all about what is best for the child and requires a determination as to whether the status quo in terms of preserving the child’s meaningful relationship with both parents can still be maintained.