When parents of minor children part ways through separation or divorce, it is not uncommon for one parent to decide that he or she wants to relocate to another city that may be far away from the other parent. This may occur during the initial proceeding or after entry of the final judgment. The move may be to just another city or county within the same state, or it may be to a state halfway across the country. If the parents have equal time-sharing or even if one parent only has visitation rights, the matter of relocation creates legal issues that may require the assistance of an experienced Miami family law attorney.
Relocation may arise for a variety of reasons. Perhaps one of the parents decides to move closer to other family members, such as parents or siblings or remarries, and their new spouse lives out of state or in a different city. Alternatively, a parent may receive a job offer in another location that they believe can significantly improve his or her economic well-being, and improve the quality of life for his or her children.
Often, a divorce decree, final judgment of paternity, or a parenting agreement may directly address the matter of relocation. It is often wise for divorcing parents to think ahead of time of how they would handle relocation issues and spell out the requirements or conditions of such an eventuality, such as how much notice must be given, how time-sharing and parental responsibility rights would be adjusted under various scenarios, and so on. However, if these matters are not addressed ahead of time, parents must be aware of the laws that govern relocation with a minor child/children in their state.
Family law statutes in the State of Florida specify precisely how relocation must be addressed by a parent seeking to move. Such information is found in Florida Statute §61.13001. As a general rule, a parent who wishes to relocate may enter into an agreement with any other party that has time-sharing (that is, these issues may not merely involve one other parent, but may include grandparents or others who have legal visitation rights, as well) and, so long as all parties consent to a new arrangement, the parent will be authorized to relocate.
To be valid, such agreements must include specific information, such as the terms of the new times-sharing arrangements, how and which parties are responsible for providing transportation, and so on. Because the law is very particular about what is required, and because failure to comply with Florida law in any particulars may result in serious legal ramifications for the relocating parent, any parent seeking a valid relocation agreement should obtain the advice of a qualified Florida family law attorney to draw up a relocation agreement and to make sure all procedures are fully complied with.
If an ex-spouse or any other person who has time-sharing with the minor child/children is not willing to agree to a proposed relocation or relocation plan, it will be necessary to petition the Florida family law court in the relevant jurisdiction to approve the relocation.
Like most legal proceedings, relocation petitions can become complicated. Again, it is advisable to retain the services of an experienced Miami family law attorney to prepare the necessary papers, make sure that all legal requirements are met, and present the request in a manner that is likely to meet the court’s approval.
To get any proposed agreement approved, the relocating parent must file a Notice of Intent to Relocate that meets stringent requirements and must send it to all parties who have custodial or visitation rights. The relocating parent must also present the court with reasons why the court should approve the relocation petition. As a result, the parent seeking to relocate should be prepared to present the court with information such as:
- The conditions of any current custodial or visitation agreement and how much the agreement is adhered to by the spouses or others with rights (e.g., a relocating parent may want to inform the court if a non-custodial parent never or rarely exercises his or her visitation rights);
- The relocating parent’s willingness to allow for longer, albeit less frequent, visits should the court approve the relocation in cases where the relocation is very distant;
- The relocating parent’s willingness to absorb increased costs and burdens of transportation;
- The reasons for the relocation, demonstrating that the purpose is not to restrict the other party’s access to the child/children;
- Why and whether the move would result in a better quality of life for the child/children;
- Any other reasons why the relocation would be in the best interests of the child/children, despite the impacts it would have on the relationship of the child/children with the other parent or other parties.
Once the appropriate papers have been filed correctly and all other procedural requirements have been completed, any parties objecting to the relocation must to respond. Should no objection be filed within a specified time frame, the court can approve a plan that complies with all legal requirements and authorize the relocation.
It is important to note that any relocating parent's failure to comply with the law in all particulars can have grave consequences. If they proceed to relocate without obtaining an agreement approved by the other parties or by the family court, they may be subject to contempt, being compelled to return the child, and liability for certain fees and costs. Also, the relocating parent’s behavior in flouting the law and other's rights can become a determining factor in any subsequent action taken by the court in determining whether the parent will be allowed to relocate with the minor child.
A parent or other party objecting to a relocation petition must respond within a fixed time frame, and the objection must state the reasons for objecting to the relocation. If the party seeking relocation has failed to comply with the law, the objecting party may be able to obtain a temporary restraining order preventing the relocating parent from moving with the child or children.
An objection must state why the relocation would not be in the best interests of the child or children. It should be noted that, in all cases, the court’s primary concern is the best interests of the child or children. Some of the factors considered by the court may include:
- The nature of the relationships that will be disturbed by relocation—not only as to the non-relocating parent, but for grandparents, siblings, extended family, and other significant persons in the child’s/children’s life/lives;
- The age and needs of the child or children, and how the move may impact the child/children;
- The preferences of the child or children;
- The feasibility of maintaining a strong relationship between the child/children and the non-relocating parties if the relocation plan is approved;
- Whether the quality of life will be improved for the child or children, including financial, emotional, or educational benefits or opportunities for the relocating parent and for the child/children;
- The current employment circumstances and economic circumstances of the parents, and how relocation will alter those circumstances for better or worse.
As demonstrated above, relocation issues can become very involved. It is always advisable in such a sensitive matter to hire a qualified attorney to make sure your interests are competently represented. Christy L. Hertz is a Florida family law attorney with over 30 years of experience. She can help either relocating or non-relocating parents or parties with a relocation matter, whether it is drawing up an agreement, filing a relocation petition, or objecting to a relocation petition.
If you need help with a relocation issue, contact Hertz • Sager, using the online form on this site, or by calling her directly at 305.444.3323.