In our mobile society, it is not uncommon for a parent to need or to desire to relocate. The difficult economic times we have experienced for several years now makes relocation for purely financial reasons increasingly common. Parental relocation is controlled largely by Florida Statute Section 61.13001. It is defined as a Achange in the location of the principal residence of a parent or other person 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. The change of location must be at least 50 miles from that residence, and for at least 60 consecutive days not including a temporary absence from the principal residence for purposes of vacation, education, or the provision of health care for the child.
This statute is triggered in two situations: 1) There must be a prior court order establishing or modifying a parenting plan, or 2) a pending petition to do either. A parenting plan is an order issued by the Court, usually in the context of a suit for dissolution of marriage or paternity, defining the various rights and responsibilities of separated parents with regard to their children. It includes what is called a “timesharing schedule” which sets forth the schedule of overnight stays the children spend with each parent, as well as related matters like pick-up and drop-off arrangements and the methods and times of communication between the children and each parent. If a parent tried to relocate with a child prior to the filing of any legal action to establish or modify a parenting plan, the statute does not apply, and the other parent must then seek to establish a parenting plan and timesharing schedule through an original divorce or paternity proceeding.
Parental relocation under Florida Statute Section 61.13001 can be temporary or permanent. The legal test under the statute for determining whether a parent's relocation should be permitted is whether the relocation is in the best interests of the child. The best interests of the child are paramount in this case, just as they are with regard to the establishing of a parenting plan and timesharing schedule. But the best interests of the child include the right to have meaningful contact with both parents and to receive the best possible upbringing both parents provide. If relocation by a parent for reasons of better economic opportunities, like a higher paying job, does not unduly interfere with the nonrelocating parent's relationship with the child, the Court will ordinarily allow it because it benefits the child, even though the move also benefits the moving parent. And there must be a balancing of interests between the parents so that the nonrelocating parent is compensated in one or more ways for the burden the move puts on his parental rights. For example, if the reason for the relocation is a better paying job for one parent but necessitates substantial traveling expenses for the other parent to maintain a proper relationship with the distant child, the relocating parent might be ordered to pay these travel expenses. But the ultimate test of the right to relocate remains the welfare of the child.
The right to parental relocation under the statute can be established either by agreement or by Court order. If the parents can reach an agreement which defines an access or time sharing schedule for the nonrelocating parent and any other persons who are entitled to access or time sharing, and any necessary transportation arrangements related to access or time sharing, then the agreement will be ratified by the Court and enforced as its own order. Unless such an agreement is reached and ratified, then the parent seeking relocation must file a petition with the Court giving a Adetailed statement of the specific reasons for the proposed relocation. If one of the reasons is based upon a job offer that has been reduced to writing, the written job offer must be attached to the petition, among other requirements. If the other parent objects to the petition, the Court determines whether the relocation is in the best interests of the child based on an evaluation of 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 Florida Statute Section 741.28 or which meets the criteria of Florida Statute Section 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 Florida Statute Section 61.13.
Legal proceedings to establish or to oppose the right to relocate with a child can involve many complicated issues, which are best handled by a family law attorney who is well-trained and experienced in this area. It is highly advisable to consult such an attorney even if both parents are in agreement, or near agreement, about a contemplated relocation. Even when the parents agree, their agreement must meet certain requirements and legal formalities, it must and be approved by the Court. Something as life-altering as one parent's desire to relocate with a child is best handled by professionals like the attorneys at Vilar Law, P.A.