May I Relocate With My Child? A Parent's Guide to Relocation
As a family law attorney, I often get asked whether a divorced parent, or a parent in the process of getting a divorce, may move to a new location with his or her child. Unfortunately, as with most legal questions, there is no simple answer. But section 61.13001, Florida Statutes (the "Relocation Statute"), offers some guidance. The moving parent must first determine how far the proposed relocation is from his or her current address. If the relocation is 50 miles or less from the moving parent's address, then that parent generally would not need permission or a court order to move (of course, a relocation may be further restricted in a marital settlement agreement, final judgment, or other court order; any such documents should be thoroughly reviewed prior to relocating). If the intended relocation is more than 50 miles from the moving parent's current residence, the next question becomes whether the non-moving parent will agree to the relocation. If an agreement is reached, the parents should reduce the agreement to a signed writing. The agreement should contain the following elements: (i) the non-moving parent's consent to relocation; (ii) a time-sharing (visitation) schedule for the non-moving parent and any other person who is entitled to access or time-sharing with the child; and (iii) a description of transportation arrangements related to access or time-sharing. The agreement should then be submitted to the court for approval. Once approved, the parent may move with the child. But, of course, there are those cases where a parent seeks to move more than 50 miles with a child and the other parent will not agree to the relocation. The moving parent will then need to file and serve a petition to relocate (note: the petition must follow the strict requirements set out in the Relocation Statute). Fortunately for both parents, a petition to relocate is accorded priority in the court's schedule. Once in front of a judge, the moving parent will have the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the relocation is in the best interests of the child. In other words, the moving party will need to show that the relocation will more likely than not be good for the child. If the moving parent meets that burden, then it becomes the non-moving parent's burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the relocation is not in the best interests of the child. In making this determination, the court will look at the factors outlined in the Relocation Statute. These factors include the following: (i) the quality and duration of the child's relationship with each parent; (ii) the feasibility of preserving the relationship between the child and the non-moving parent; (iii) the quality and duration of the child's relationship with other people, such as siblings, grandparents, and other significant persons in the child's life; (iv) the reason each parent has for supporting or opposing the move; (v) the child's preference, taking into consideration the age and maturity of the child; and (vi) the current employment and economic circumstances of each parent. A court may give each factor different weight based on the circumstances of a particular case. But, ultimately, the court will have the child's best interests in mind. In sum, a parent who intends to move with a child must follow the strict requirements of the Relocation Statute. To save time, reduce the likelihood of conflict, and avoid legal troubles, he or she should review the Relocation Statute and consult with an attorney experienced in family law.