The term divorce is often synonymous with terms such as “new beginning” or “fresh start”. For many, that means getting the hell out of Dodge aka relocation. However, the days of just packing up and skipping town are long behind them if there are children involved. When a party has concerns about the other parent leaving the jurisdiction with the child, residency restrictions are often addressed in their marital settlement agreement or final judgment. If this is the case, then the party seeking to move with the child must prove a substantial change of circumstances to seek relocation.
If there is no agreement ratified by the court or there is no order or final judgment containing specific provisions governing relocation then there is no need to prove said change and Fla. Stat §61.13001 applies to the modification proceeding. In this instance, the moving party must show (1) that the circumstances have substantially and materially changed since the original custody order; (2) the child’s best interests justify altering the custody order; and (3) the change is not one that was contemplated at the time of the custody determination. If the parents and every other person entitled to access to or time-sharing with the child agree to the relocation of the child, they may satisfy the requirements for relocation under the statute by signing a written agreement that reflects the consent to the relocation, defines the access to or time-sharing schedule for the nonrelocating parent and any other persons who are entitled to time-sharing, and describes, if necessary, any transportation arrangements related to access or time-sharing. If no agreement can be reached, the moving party must file a petition for relocation with the court and the non-moving parent must file an answer. This formal process has many nuances and the failure to address each element required by statute can result in dismissal.
Once the required pleadings have been filed, the judge will examine a variety of factors; one being the motive and intent of each parent. What may seem a naturally logical reason for relocation to a party may not be recognized as such by the court. For example, when one parent loses their job or proves better opportunities exist in another jurisdiction, the court has stated on several occasions that this is not sufficient to allow relocation as relocation should not be permitted where the benefit is primarily for the parent alone and not the child.