Best Interests of the Child: Florida’s Child Relocation Law
In this article, we’ll break down the following:
- Background on Florida Child Relocation Law
- The Best Interests of the Child Standard in Florida
- Factors Considered in Evaluating the Best Interests of the Child
- Role of Parents and Legal Guardians in Relocation Cases
- Legal Proceedings and Determination of the Best Interests of the Child
Often after the dissolution of a marriage, individuals may decide to move for various reasons. Some move to begin the next chapter of their lives with a new partner, while others move to start a new job.
While anyone can move wherever they please, it isn’t as simple as picking up and going when children are involved. Florida has strict laws governing child relocation. When the relocating parent moves with their child, it is often difficult for the parent left behind to keep up with their visitation schedule.
Florida child relocation laws seek to balance one parent’s right to relocate and the other’s right to maintain a meaningful relationship with their child. Ultimately, it all comes down to the best interests of the child. Here’s everything you need to know about Florida’s child relocation law.
Background on Florida Child Relocation Law
Florida law defines child relocation as a situation where one parent moves with the child to a new location 50 miles away from their primary residence for 60 consecutive days or more. The primary residence is the location documented in the court files when the last custody sharing order was passed, modified, or when any unresolved action to modify or pass a custody sharing agreement was filed.
If a child temporarily stays at a location that is not their primary residence for health, education, or parental purposes, for less than 60 days, it is not considered relocation. This means express approval from the other parent is not required.
The Best Interests of the Child Standard in Florida
According to Florida courts, it is in the best interests of the child to maintain a meaningful, ongoing relationship with each parent even after a divorce. The provisions of Florida Statutes Section 61.13(3) state that a child’s best interests must be the principal consideration when developing, modifying, or approving a parenting plan.
It is worth noting that when Senate Bill 1416 went into effect on July 1, 2023, it changed some of the language in Florida Statutes Section 61.13. However, it did not change the factors used to evaluate the best interests of the child in time-sharing cases.
It begs the question: What determines the “best interests of a child?”
As part of Florida courts’ commitment to prioritizing the child’s welfare, the law recognizes that every child has unique needs and vulnerabilities. As a result, their physical, developmental, and psychological well-being should be of paramount concern in any decision-making process.
Every child’s situation is different and requires a comprehensive evaluation of various factors when determining what is in the best interest of a child in paternity or divorce cases. These factors play an instrumental role when developing a parenting plan, particularly when it comes to the time-sharing schedule.
While Florida judges can exercise broad discretion when making decisions, they must still articulate rational reasons behind those rulings.
Factors Considered in Evaluating the Best Interests of the Child
Ultimately, the concern in a relocation determination is whether the move is in the best interests of the child. Chalmers v. Chalmers, App. 4 Dist., 259 So.3d 878 (2018)
In reaching their decision, Florida trial courts consider the following factors when evaluating the child’s best interest in parental relocation cases.
Stability and Continuity in the Child’s Life
This first factor applies when one parent relocates to a different school district or location significantly further away from the primary residence. It might be in the child’s best interests to remain in their current neighborhood and school, as opposed to moving to a new school close to the new residence of the parent that moved out of the marital home.
Maintaining continuity in the child’s life is considered in the context of the parent providing a stable living environment for the child.
Relationship Between the Child and Each Parent
In many cases, parents will have usually been living separately for a while, pending the final dissolution hearing. In that period, there’s a good chance that some type of visitation or shared custody arrangement will have already developed.
When determining the child’s best interests, Florida courts will look at each parent’s behavior during and after the separation. They will then use it to gauge their willingness to cooperate with regard to ensuring the child maintains an active relationship with each parent.
For instance, if one parent exhibits disparaging behavior towards the other or fails to bring the child to visit with the other parent at agreed-upon locations and times, the court will take this into account when determining whether or not a parent is allowed to relocate with the child.
Emotional, Physical, and Educational Needs of the Child
Parents must put the needs of their children ahead of their own. A parent doesn’t necessarily need to be neglectful to act in a manner that would be deemed selfish. Florida courts evaluate whether relocation would be in the best interests of the child with regard to whether their emotional, physical, and educational needs will be met.
History of Domestic Violence or Substance Abuse, if Applicable
A Florida trial court will consider a history of domestic violence or substance abuse by either parent when creating an appropriate time-sharing schedule. While an isolated incident may not bar a parent from visiting with their child, evidence of repeated abuse may result in reduced or supervised visitations if the court deems it a continuing problem in the home.
Child’s Preference, Depending on Age and Maturity
In Florida law, any child that is not yet a teenager is considered not to possess adequate maturity or understanding. That said, this is not a hard and fast rule. It is at the judge’s discretion whether to give weight to the child’s preference in a time-sharing/child-relocation case.
It is worth noting that Florida courts also consider the effort made by each parent to shield the children from litigation when evaluating the best interests of the child. Such efforts include not discussing the ongoing litigation with the child and not making disparaging remarks about the other parent to the child.
Availability of a Support System and Extended Family
Parents are expected to play an active role in their children’s life. Transitioning from a two-parent home to a single-parent household can take a toll on both the child’s and parent’s mental and emotional health. For this reason, courts consider whether relocating would deprive the child of a healthy support system from their extended family and friends when evaluating the child’s best interests.
Impact of Relocation on Visitation and Co-parenting Arrangements
Courts consider how feasible it will be to preserve the relationship between the child and the non-relocating parent. They assess whether the non-custodial parent will be able to comply with the existing visitation and co-parenting arrangements.
Compliance can be even harder if the other parent intends to relocate to a state outside the court’s jurisdiction. A judge considers all these factors when determining the child’s best interests.
Quick Tip: A recent change in the law allows the court to consider modifying 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 consulting an experienced Florida lawyer to learn your rights.
Role of Parents and Legal Guardians in Relocation Cases
In Florida, a parent can only relocate with a minor child if the non-custodial parent consents to the relocation in an agreement or if the relocating parent seeks and is granted approval from the court. Here’s an overview of the responsibilities of parents and legal guardians in relocation cases.
Relocation by Mutual Consent
If parents agree on the relocation, they can enter into a written agreement signed by both parties. The document should:
- Reflect each party’s consent to the move;
- Define a new time-sharing schedule that the non-relocating parent and any other person entitled to visitation with the child will adhere to; and
- Define the transportation arrangements related to time-sharing or access to the child.
If a decree of divorce, a custody judgment, or an ongoing cause of action on the child’s principal residence exists, the parents or legal guardians must obtain a court order to ratify the agreement.
Unless any of the parties request a hearing within 10 days of filing the agreement with the court, the relocation is deemed in the child’s best interest. The court can ratify the agreement without any requirement for an evidentiary hearing.
Relocation by Court Petition
While it is usually better for parents to reach an amicable agreement if one of them intends to relocate, this isn’t always possible. When this happens, both parties can seek legal intervention through mediation.
If both parties cannot resolve the dispute through productive dialogue, the only other option would be to go through the courts. In such cases, the parent or legal guardian who intends to relocate must file a relocation petition with the court.
They must also notify the non-relocating party and all other parties entitled to time-sharing with or access to the child, whether they are the primary residential parent. The petition must be filed at least 60 days before the proposed relocation date.
The information contained in the notice must include the following:
- A detailed description of the intended new residence including, but not limited to, the physical address (if known), city, and state;
- The mailing address of the intended new residence (if known) if it is different from the physical address;
- The home phone number of what would be the new residence (if known);
- The proposed relocation date;
- A detailed statement providing the specific reasons for the relocation. If one of the reasons is based on a job offer, the written offer must be attached to the petition; and
- A detailed proposal of the revised time-sharing schedule and parenting plan post-relocation, alongside a proposal detailing the transport arrangements required to facilitate time-sharing with or access to the child.
Upon receipt of the notice, the party objecting to the relocation has 20 days to file a written response with the court and serve the petitioning party. If the non-relocating party fails to object to the petition, the court will allow the parent or legal guardian to relocate with the child without a hearing, provided the move is deemed in the child’s best interest. Florida Statutes Section 61.10031(4), (5) (2023)
To object to a petition for relocation in Florida, the non-relocating party must provide the following:
- Reasons for their objection;
- Facts to back those reasons; and
- A statement reflecting their involvement in the child’s life.
Legal Proceedings and Determination of the Best Interests of the Child
Under Florida law, a parent who wants to relocate with their child must prove that the planned relocation is—more likely than not—in the child’s best interests. If successful, the non-relocating parent must prove why the relocation is not in the child’s best interests. Florida Statutes Section 61.10031(8) (2023)
It is worth noting that the law does not operate on the presumption that a planned relocation should or shouldn’t be allowed on the basis that it would interfere with the existing parenting plan. Instead, the courts base their decision on the analysis and evaluation of several best-interest factors, including:
- The child’s relationship with both parents, their siblings, extended family, and other instrumental figures in their life;
- The effect the move would have on their emotional, physical, and educational development;
- How feasible it will be for the child to maintain a relationship with the non-relocating parent;
- The child’s preference, depending on their age and maturity;
- Each parent’s current economic and employment circumstances;
- Each parent’s reason for seeking or objecting to the move;
- Whether the objecting parent has fulfilled their financial obligations to the child and the custodial parent;
- The age and developmental stage of the child;
- Any history of domestic violence or substance abuse by either parent;
- Any other factors that may affect the best interests of the child.
The Legal Process in Child Relocation Cases
Under Florida law, if you want to relocate with your child, meaning you intend to move at least 50 miles from your primary residence for 60 consecutive days or more, you must petition the court for approval and ensure the other parent is served with the filed petition.
The petition must include a detailed description, physical address, mailing address (if different from the physical address), and home phone number of the new residence. It must also provide a proposed relocation date, a revised parenting plan, a time-sharing schedule, and proposed transportation arrangements.
The non-relocating parent has 20 days to file a written response with the court objecting to the relocation and serve the petitioner with the same. The objecting parent’s response must provide reasons for their objection, facts supporting those reasons, and a statement reflecting their involvement in the child’s life.
The judge will then convene a hearing where each party has to convince the court why relocating would or wouldn’t be in the child’s best interests. The petitioning parent can only relocate with the child once the court permits them.
On the other hand, if the objecting parent fails to file a response within the stipulated 20-day window, the court will go ahead and grant the petitioner an order allowing them to relocate. The proposed parenting plan and time-sharing schedule will also be adopted. The petition will be granted without a hearing.
The Role of Evidence and Expert Testimonies
The default decision in child custody cases in Florida is shared parental responsibility. Each parent has an equal right to the shared physical custody of their child unless such an arrangement would be detrimental to the best interests of the child.
However, evidence and expert testimony may rebut a presumption that shared custody in a child relocation case would be detrimental to their well-being. For instance, in the case of a parent:
- Charged with and found guilty of a first-degree domestic violence misdemeanor;
- That meets the criteria required for the termination of their parental rights under Florida Statutes Section 39.806;
- Convicted of a sexual crime under Florida Statutes Section 943.0435 when the parent and their victim were over and under 18, respectively.
Any parent or guardian—relocating or non-relocating—accused of committing these offenses must prove that sharing custody would not be detrimental to the child’s best interests.
It is worth noting that even in cases where relocation is not strictly at issue, the relocation factors should be considered at the earliest possible opportunity when determining the children’s best interests. Parris v. Butler, 264 So. 3d 1089 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2019)
The primary consideration courts use when determining whether a child and their parent can relocate is in the child’s best interests. For the most part, judges have broad discretion when it comes to such rulings. However, Florida Statutes Section 61.13 provides an expansive list of factors courts can use to prioritize the welfare and best interests of the child in all decisions.
If you wish to relocate with your child or object to the other parent’s proposed relocation, then it’s a good idea to consult an experienced attorney as soon as possible 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.
Get a Free Consultation with a Broward County Family Law Attorney
Contact us to find out how we can help you. You can contact us by phone at 954-458-8655 or by e-mail through this website to schedule an appointment and learn more about your rights in a Broward County family law matter. We offer a free initial telephone consultation.
Do You Have a Question?
Please fill out the “Talk With An Attorney” form above to ask a question or you can call us at 954-458-8655.