Child Relocation: Adjusting the Parenting Plan in Florida
In this article, we’ll explore the following:
- Understanding Child Relocation in Florida
- Adjusting the Parenting Plan
- Seeking Consent and Mediation
- Case Studies and Examples
A standard parenting time plan, as defined by Title IV-D of Florida Statutes Section 409.25633, is a written document agreed upon by the parents of a child to provide the non-custodial parent with a reasonable amount of time to spend with their minor child. The plan sets forth the specific times, including holidays and overnight stays, that children are entitled to spend with each parent.
When one parent relocates, the parenting plan must be modified to allow the child to maintain a relationship with the non-relocating parent. The relocation must be in the child’s best interest and not necessarily that of the parent who wishes to move.
Here’s everything you need to know about adjusting the parenting plan in Florida child relocation cases.
Understanding Child Relocation in Florida
Pursuant to Florida Statutes 61.13001, child relocation is when a custodial parent moves with their child to a new location more than 50 miles from the parent’s primary residence for at least 60 consecutive days. The law prohibits a parent from relocating the child without written notice and consent from the non-custodial parent and the court. Oral agreements are not considered valid.
When assessing whether to grant a petition for relocation, Florida courts have broad discretion to decide if the move is in the best interests of the child. Some factors a judge would consider when evaluating a child relocation case include:
- The relationship the child has with each parent;
- The child’s preference, depending on their age and maturity;
- The potential impact the proposed relocation may have on their psychological, mental, social, and educational well-being;
- The custodial parent’s reason for wanting to relocate;
- The economic and employment situation of each parent;
- Whether the proposed move will improve the child’s and their parent’s quality of life.
The statutory criteria for child relocation cases in Florida with regard to notice and consent must meet the requirements provided under Florida Statutes Section 61.13001(3)(a).
Once the objecting parent receives the notice of relocation, they must file a written response with the court and serve the petitioner with the same within 20 days. If this window closes before the non-custodial party responds, the court will presume the relocation to be in the child’s best interests.
To object to the relocation, the non-custodial parent must provide a statement detailing their reasons for objecting to the move, along with facts to support those reasons. They must also prove their involvement in the child’s life, including evidence of compliance with the current custody order.
The role of Florida courts in deciding relocation cases is to ensure the proposed move is in the child’s best interests and to protect the non-relocating parent’s custody and visitation rights.
Adjusting the Parenting Plan
If circumstances result in the relocation of the custodial (or non-custodial) parent, it will undoubtedly impact the existing visitation schedule. While not every relocation requires an adjustment to the current parenting plan, a modification might be deemed necessary if:
- The relocation makes it difficult for the non-relocating parent to simultaneously maintain their job and time-sharing schedule;
- The relocation alters the child’s well-being in any way—positive or negative;
- Either parent experiences a substantial change in their existing circumstances brought on by any number of things, including loss of employment, a newly-acquired drug habit, an arrest or conviction, a health-related issue, etc.;
- The child experiences a significant change in circumstances, such as physical, mental, or behavioral issues that make one parent better suited to handle the child or a new desire to live with the non-custodial parent.
Legal Process for Modifying the Parenting Plan in Florida
If both parents agree on modifying the parenting plan, these changes must be memorialized in writing, signed by both parties and filed in court to avoid a situation where one party claims not to have agreed to the modification.
If the other parent objects to modifying the parenting plan, the party proposing the changes can file a modification petition with the court. The court will then schedule a hearing date where both parties must appear in person and present their reasons for or against modifying the existing parenting plan.
A judge will then use their discretion to evaluate the modification request and determine whether the proposed changes are in the best interests of the child.
Some factors courts consider when modifying a parenting plan include the following:
- Proximity and logistics: How does the distance of the non-custodial party relate to their parenting time and the logistics involved when traveling back and forth?
- Communication and co-parenting capabilities: Are both parents adhering to the provisions of the existing child custody order, or is one withholding the child or failing to return them based on the agreed-upon schedule? Is the relationship between them strained to the point they cannot communicate when discussing their child’s needs?
- Impact on the child’s well-being: What effect will the changes have on the child’s psychological, mental, physical, social, or educational well-being?
Available Options for Adjusting the Parenting Plan
There are generally three possible outcomes when adjusting the parenting plan in Florida child relocation cases.
Long-Distance Visitation Schedules
If both parents live far from each other, a long-distance visitation schedule can be implemented into the parenting plan. This arrangement ensures the child maintains a strong and loving relationship with each parent. A visitation schedule of this nature can be adapted to each family’s specific circumstances and needs. The age of the children, travel costs, and travel time must be taken into account when developing a long-distance visitation schedule.
Popular examples include:
- Monthly visits with each parent;
- Extended visits with the non-custodial parent during school breaks; or
- Alternating extended visits during school breaks and holidays.
Virtual Parenting Time and Communication
Virtual visitation refers to court-ordered parenting time when the non-custodial parent spends time with their child via video, phone, texting, or any other form of e-communication.
Just like in-person parenting, both parents are obligated to ensure virtual parenting time and communication happens. This involves keeping phones, tablets, or computers charged, ensuring the child’s schedule stays open for the virtual parenting time, and giving the child the necessary space and privacy (if need be) to communicate freely with their other parent.
Modification of Custody Arrangements
If the relocation makes it impossible to maintain the current custody arrangement, courts will consider adjusting the parenting plan given the new circumstances. The focus of the new arrangement will always be in the best interests of the child in allowing both parents to co-parent effectively.
Seeking Consent and Mediation
A well-crafted parenting plan fosters a productive environment that allows both parents to co-parent effectively. It should ensure that both households’ rules, behavior, and expectations are consistent. It should be designed to prioritize the child’s well-being, needs, and best interests. A parenting plan can only work through open communication and cooperation between both parents.
Even with the best intentions, things don’t always pan out as expected. A change in one parent’s circumstances may suddenly render the existing plan inadequate. In such instances, parents must go through the modification process and update the plan to fit the child’s and parent’s changing needs. The modification must remain focused on protecting the child’s welfare.
If the custodial parent plans to relocate, they must seek consent from the non-custodial parent. If the non-relocating parent agrees to the relocation, the two parties can negotiate a custody or visitation arrangement in the child’s best interests. Once they do, they, through their respective lawyers, can draft a new, feasible parenting plan together and file it with the court to request a modification to the existing order.
If the non-custodial parent objects to the relocation or both parents cannot agree on the specific terms of the proposed parenting plan, the relocating parent can file a petition for relocation along with the proposed revised parenting plan. The objecting parent can then file their response citing their reasons for opposing it. The court will review the facts from both sides and decide whether to grant the relocation or modification request.
Mediation as an Alternative Dispute Resolution Method
When both parties disagree on the way forward, they can avoid the stress and expenses of a court hearing by going through mediation. Mediation as an alternative dispute resolution method in child relocation cases has several benefits over court-led processes:
- Both parties control the outcome: Parents can decide whether to relocate the child, how much time each parent gets with the children, which parent makes major decisions regarding the child’s educational and medical needs, etc.
- It is better for the child’s emotional well-being: Mediation has repeatedly proven to be a more effective way of resolving child-related custody and time-sharing issues than litigation.
- It creates a solid foundation for positive co-parenting: Mediation equips both parents with co-parenting skills that make them better at cooperating, collaborating, and negotiating, allowing the child to thrive.
- Parents are more likely to adhere to mediation-driven custody and time-sharing arrangements: No parent is left feeling short-changed at the end of the process.
The role of the mediator in the child relocation mediation process is to help create a feasible custody and parenting plan that prioritizes the child’s best interests.
Quick Tip: A recent change in the law allows the court to consider a modification to the time-sharing schedule when a parent relocates within 50 miles of the child. Therefore, existing statutory language is likely to change. This is why we say these articles are for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Florida law is always changing, and the facts of each case are unique, which can impact the outcome of a case. Therefore, we strongly recommend speaking with an experienced Florida lawyer to learn your rights.
Case Studies and Examples
Real-Life Examples of Child Relocation Cases in Florida
The mother of a minor child filed a notice of intent to relocate with her child. The father’s response was an objection on the grounds that there was a pending action to determine paternity and establish a parenting plan that included child support and a time-sharing schedule.
The trial court granted the mother’s request to relocate, and both parties were instructed to develop a long-distance parenting plan. The court approved a plan that gave the child’s mother sole parental rights and a time-sharing schedule that excluded the child from overnight visits with the father.
The father appealed this decision, and the previous ruling approving the mother’s relocation request was reversed. Duryea v. Bono, 326 So. 3d 1208 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2021)
The mother of a minor child was not required to file a petition to relocate before moving to a different county located forty-nine miles away from her previous residence. The Florida relocation statute required that a change of location be at least 50 miles away for notice and consent to be sought. Dickson v. Dickson, 169 So. 3d 287 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2015)
Different Outcomes and Their Impact on Parenting Plans
The inclusion of erroneous language in the revised parenting plan read that the mother’s potential relocation of the daughter, if any, had to be sought in compliance with the Florida relocation statute.
As a result, the plan did not comply with the statutory requirement that any petition to relocate was meant to be filed only for moves of 50 miles or more from the current residence. The court did not deem the error pervasive or significant enough to warrant a reversal of the entire parenting plan. Clark v. Meizlik, 289 So. 3d 983 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2020)
Florida courts have broad discretion when it comes to deciding whether to grant child relocation requests. While every decision rendered is case-specific, the individual circumstances of the child and family play a major role in determining whether the proposed move and adjusted parenting plan are in the child’s best interests.
If you want to relocate with your child or object to the other parent’s proposed relocation, then a good idea is to consult with an experienced attorney to explore your legal options. Most experienced relocation attorneys will provide you with a free consultation either in-person or over the phone. Get in touch with us now.
We represent clients in child support and child custody matters in both Broward County and Miami-Dade County including the communities of Hallandale, Hollywood, Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, Miramar, Pembroke Pines, Weston, Davie, North Miami Beach, and Dania Beach.
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