Florida has moved away from the concept of ‘child visitation’ and ‘primary custody’ and has instead adopted the idea of time sharing. Time sharing recognizes that both parents have equal rights, even if they do not get equal time with the children. Parents must now enter into a time sharing plan which sets out their rights, duties and visitation schedule with regard to their children.
Very often in our law practice, more so in these troubled economic times, a parent with whom the child spends the most time will ask me whether they can relocate for economic, social or other reasons.
“Relocation” means a change in the location of the residence of at least 50 miles from the previous residence (or the residence of the other parent) and must be 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. Relocation to a place less than 50 miles from the former residence is permitted at any time.
There are only two ways that you can relocate under Florida law. You must either (1) enter into a voluntary written agreement to the relocation with the other parent (or person who has time sharing rights) which requires approval by the court, or, in the absence of an agreement, (2) ask the court to allow relocation, in which case the court will hold a hearing to decide whether relocation is in the best interests of the child(ren).
Court involvement begins with a petition (formal request) to permit relocation. Your petition will let the court know the location of the intended new residence, the expected date of relocation, the reasons for relocation and a proposed time sharing schedule. The other parent has 20 days to give specific reasons to the relocation. The nonrelocating parent will also have to describe his or her involvement with the child (why should an uninvolved parent who rarely visits be able to object to relocation?) If no objections are filed, the court must presume that the relocation is in the child’s best interests and will approve your relocation. Hearings on relocation are usually held within 30 days.
If objections to relocation are filed, you may not relocate and will go to a temporary hearing or trial to get the judge’s permission to relocate. A court may enter a temporary order allowing relocation if it determines at a preliminary hearing that the likelihood is that the court will approve the relocation at the final hearing.
You will have to show the court that relocation is in the best interests of the child; the objecting person will have to convince the court that the proposed relocation is not in the child’s best interests.
The court looks at a variety of factors in deciding whether to permit relocation, including the quality of the child’s relationship with the other parent, the age, needs and preferences of the child, the probability of a continuing meaningful relationship between the child and the nonrelocating parent, whether the relocation will improve the general quality of life for both you and the child, and any history of substance abuse or domestic violence by either parent.
Relocation is complex and often requires attorney involvement. For detailed information, see Parental Relocation.