When a couple with minor children gets a divorce in Florida, and custody is shared between the parties, they form a written time-sharing agreement. The particulars of the agreement – number of custody days per year, number of days at a stretch, procedures for handing off, etc. – depend largely on the locations of the parties’ homes.
When an ex-spouse with shared custody wishes to move a significant distance, therefore, he or she must obtain proper permission in order not to violate the custody agreement. Florida statutes refer to such a move as a “relocation.” A relocation is a change of one’s principal residence to a new location at least 50 miles from the current location for a period not less than 60 consecutive days.
The first step is for the ex-spouses to try to come to a relocation agreement. If they are able to do so, they sign a written agreement that states consent to the relocation, establishes a new time-sharing schedule, and describes any necessary transportation arrangements. After signing the agreement, the couple request a court order ratifying the agreement. The court will usually presume the relocation to be in the best interests of the child and ratify the agreement without a hearing of evidence.
If the couple cannot come to an agreement, the parent wishing to relocate must petition the court. The petition must include the location of the proposed new residence, the intended date of relocation, a statement detailing the reasons for the relocation, a proposal for a revised custody sharing schedule, and specific legal language indicating that if the counterparty objects, he or she must notify the court within 20 days. The relocating parent must serve the other party with a copy of the petition.
If the other party objects to the move, then permission for the relocation must be determined in court at a hearing or trial. There is no presumption for or against the relocation. The court must evaluate the following factors:
- The nature, quality, and duration of the child’s relationship with each parent and with other family members and significant persons.
- The anticipated impact of the relocation on the child’s development.
- The child’s preference, within the context of his or her age and maturity.
- Whether the relocation will benefit the relocating parent and/or the child, especially with regard to the parent’s employment circumstances.
- Whether the objecting parent has fulfilled his or her obligations to the relocating parent.
- Any history of domestic violence or substance abuse.
- Any other factor affecting the child’s best interest.
After considering all these factors, the court will grant or deny the petition to relocate.