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Relocation During Divorce in Florida

A client was recently offered a once in a lifetime job opportunity in New York City, a dream job for lack of a better term. Accepting the job would mean a better life for her and her child. However, with the pending divorce in Florida, she was required to petition the court for relocation prior to accepting the job. Failure to do so could result in contempt and other proceedings to compel return of the child as well as other appropriate remedial relief.

Section 61.13001, Fla. Stat. (2014), titled “Parental relocation with a child,” establishes the procedures involved in the relocation of a child, whether relocation is sought after agreement between the parties or alternatively contested by one party. “Relocation” for legal purposes is defined as a change in the principal residence of a parent from 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. The distance of 50 miles is not measured by driving distance, but rather by “how the crow flies” or a straight line from one residence to another.

A full hearing on the best interests of the child is a necessary to determine whether the court will grant permission to relocate with a minor child. During this hearing the parties will present evidence regarding certain specified statutory factors. When petitioning the court for relocation, the party seeking the relocation has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that relocation is in the best interest of the child or children. If that burden is met, the burden shifts to the other party to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the proposed relocation is not in the best interest of the child or children. If the court approves relocation, the court may order contact with the non-relocating party and may specify how transportation costs are to be allocated.

In reaching a decision regarding whether relocation is appropriate, either temporary or permanent the court should evaluate the following eleven factors provided for in Section 61.13001(7), Florida Statutes:

  1. The nature, quality, extent of involvement, and duration of the child’s relationship with the parent and the non-relocating parent, other persons, siblings, half-siblings, and other significant persons in the child’s life.
  2. 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.
  3. The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the non-relocating 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.
  4. The child’s preference, taking into consideration the age and maturity of the child.
  5. 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.
  6. The reasons each parent or other person is seeking or opposing the relocation.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. The career and other opportunities available to the objecting parent or other person if the relocation occurs.
  10. 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.
  11. Any other factor affecting the best interest of the child.

The most important point to remember is that you must comply with the terms of the statute if you want to move with a minor child more than 50 miles away from where you lived at the time of filing the petition for dissolution of marriage or at the time of the last court order. Failure to comply could have drastic consequences.

In the end, my client was allowed to relocate with the minor child after a lengthy trial. The court found that based upon the statutory factors, the mother had met her burden of proof and relocation would be in the best interest of the child. Relocation cases are not easy because a court must make the very difficult decision to separate a family. Being prepared and knowing the law is critical when presenting or defending against a relocation case. Failure to present the proper testimony and evidence could make the difference between winning or losing your case.