In a Divorce, What Do You Need to Know about Florida’s Relocation Statute?
Many people living in South Florida are transplants from other areas of the county. Invariably, when a marital relationship involving a minor child becomes irretrievably broken, there may be a desire by one parent to relocate outside of Florida. Relocation matters in Florida are governed by §61.13001, Florida Statutes (2012), and must be strictly adhered to. Below is a general discussion of the statute and the major provisions it contains.
What is relocation?
Relocation means a change 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.
What if the parents agree to the relocation?
If the parents agree to the relocation of the child, they can sign a written agreement that:
- reflects consent to the relocation;
- defines an access or time-sharing schedule for the nonrelocating parent and any other persons who are entitled to access or time-sharing; and
- describes, if necessary, any transportation arrangements related to access or time- sharing.
After the written agreement is memorialized by the parents, it is necessary to seek ratification of the agreement by court order. No evidentiary hearing is necessary unless requested, in writing, by one or more of the parties within 10 days after the date the agreement is filed with the court. If a hearing is not timely requested, it shall be presumed that the relocation is in the best interest of the child and the court may ratify the agreement without an evidentiary hearing.
What if the parents cannot agree?
In those circumstances where the parent cannot agree to the relocation, the parent seeking to relocate must file a petition with the court and serve it upon the other parent. The Petition must be signed under oath or affirmation under penalty of perjury and include:
- A description of the location of the intended new residence, including the state, city, and specific physical address, if known.
- The mailing address of the intended new residence, if not the same as the physical address, if known.
- The home telephone number of the intended new residence, if known.
- The date of the intended move or proposed relocation.
- 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.
- 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. Absent the existence of a current, valid order abating, terminating, or restricting access or time-sharing or other good cause predating the petition, failure to comply with this provision renders the petition to relocate legally insufficient.
- Substantially the following statement, in all capital letters and in the same size type, or larger, as the type in the remainder of the petition:
A RESPONSE TO THE PETITION OBJECTING TO RELOCATION MUST BE MADE IN WRITING, FILED WITH THE COURT, AND SERVED ON THE PARENT OR OTHER PERSON SEEKING TO RELOCATE WITHIN 20 DAYS AFTER SERVICE OF THIS PETITION TO RELOCATE. IF YOU FAIL TO TIMELY OBJECT TO THE RELOCATION, THE RELOCATION WILL BE ALLOWED, UNLESS IT IS NOT IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD, WITHOUT FURTHER NOTICE AND WITHOUT A HEARING.
What happens after the petition for relocation is served?
After being served, it is important that a parent wishing to object to the relocation of a child respond in a timely manner. If a parent fails to do so in a timely manner, it is presumed that the relocation is in the best interest of the child and that it should be allowed, absent good cause. In addition to being timely, the objection must be verified and include the specific factual basis supporting the reasons for seeking a prohibition of the relocation, including a statement of the amount of participation or involvement the objecting party currently has or has had in the life of the child. Failure to strictly adhere to these requirements could have draconian results, so do not wait to respond.
What happens if a parent objects in a timely manner to the petition?
If a response is timely filed, the parent or other person may not relocate, and must proceed to a temporary hearing or trial and obtain court permission to relocate. There is no presumption in favor of or against a request to relocate and the court must evaluate the following statutory factors at trial:
- 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 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.
- Any other factor affecting the best interest of the child or as set forth in s. 61.13.
As long as Florida’s warm, sunny climate continues to draw transplants from other parts of the country, relocation is likely to be a relevant issue in the dissolution of many marriages.
Jonathan Schiller is board certified as a specialist in marital and family law by the Florida Bar. Mr. Schiller specializes in marital and family law with special emphasis in dissolution of marriage, alimony, parental responsibility and timesharing, equitable distribution, adoption and other family law matters.