New Beginnings Meet a Roadblock: The Realities of Relocation with Minor Children
Divorced or separated parents often desire to relocate, whether to seek new employment opportunities, to be closer to family, or for a number of other reasons. If a party desires to move more than 50 miles away from their principal residence, after the filing of a case relating to parental responsibility, there are legal implications which must be considered and addressed. Often, the other parent's time-sharing with the minor child will be affected by a move, as can the child's school, doctors, friends, community, and nearly every aspect of his or her life. The process for relocating, like many other processes for divorced or separated parents, requires the Court's blessing, and can either be a simple and amicable process, or result in heavily contested litigation. It is important that parties facing such circumstances do so cautiously, and seek the advice of legal counsel experienced in family law. If you are involved with either a contested or uncontested relocation, it is highly advisable that you consult with a family law attorney experienced with relocation issues.
Florida's relocation law, codified at Section 61.13001, Florida Statutes, applies if a parent intends to move more than 50 miles away from their primary residence with the minor child, for at least 60 consecutive days. However, the statute is not applicable, and judicial relief is not necessary, if the relocation is more than 60 days, but is still considered a temporary absence for purposes of vacation, education, or health care for the minor child. It is noteworthy that, in the absence of a contractual provision to the contrary, 50 miles means 50 miles "as the crow flies," or, in other words, using a straight-line test and not a distance-traveled test. If a divorced or separated parent relocates with the minor child without complying with the requirements of Section 61.13001, Florida Statutes, the parent could be held in contempt and could be compelled to return the minor child. More, while a proceeding is ongoing, the court may enter a temporary order restraining the relocation of the minor child, or ordering the return of the minor child (if an improper relocation had already taken place).
Divorced or separated parents may also relocate by agreement. If they do, the written agreement should reflect a consent to the specific relocation, define a time-sharing schedule for the non-relocating parent, and describe, if necessary, any transportation arrangements relating to access or time-sharing. After an agreement is reached, the parties should then present it to the Court for approval. Therefore, it is important for even those parties addressing a relocation by consent to seek the advice of experienced legal counsel.
Relocation is often a heavily contested issue, due to disagreements over the best interests of a minor child. In such cases, a petition for relocation must be served by the relocating parent that complies with the requirements of Section 61.13001, Florida Statutes. Such a petition must be verified under oath, and must include, among other things, (1) a description of the location of the intended new residence, including the state, city, and specific physical address, if known; (2) the mailing address of the intended new residence, if not the same as the physical address, if known; (3) the home telephone number of the intended new residence, if known; (4) the date of the intended move or proposed relocation; (5) a detailed 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; and (6) a proposal for the revised post-relocation schedule for access and time-sharing together with a proposal for the post-relocation transportation arrangements necessary to effectuate time-sharing with the child. Failure to comply with the these provisions renders a relocation petition legally insufficient and subject to dismissal.
A response and objection to the relocation must be filed within 20 days after service. Failure to file an appropriately-detailed and timely response will result in a presumption that relocation is in the best interest of the minor child, making relocation far more likely. At a relocation trial, the party seeking to relocate must first come forward and present evidence showing that it is more likely than not in the child's best interests to relocate. Once that showing is made, the burden shifts, and the party objecting to relocation must come forward and present evidence that the proposed relocation is not in the minor child's best interests. Ultimately, the Court should side with whichever party presents the best case as to whether a relocation is, or is not, in the best interests of a minor child.
Parents struggling with relocation issues should contact an attorney experienced in marital and family law and more specifically, relocations, to determine how to best present their cases and protect their interests. If you need assistance, contact Jeffrey Law immediately via e-mail at office@RSJLegal.com, or via telephone at 305.222.7921.
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Robert Stone Jeffrey, Esq., is an attorney admitted to the Florida Bar in 2010, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and the Supreme Court of the United States. Robert has experience handling complex and high asset family law disputes, and has authored chapters in various publications relating to Florida family law, as well as civil and commercial litigation. Robert has been awarded an AV Rating by Martindale-Hubbell (2017 and 2018), as "Peer Rated For Highest Level of Professional Excellence." Robert was awarded a 10/10 rating by Avvo.com, and various client reviews can be accessed through that platform. See https://www.avvo.com/attorneys/33134-fl-robert-jeffrey-3341362.html. More information about Robert can be found at www.RSJLegal.com