child custodyWhen a custodial parent plans to move away from the other parent and seeks court permission to take their children with him, two factors play a role when the court is making its decision: (i) the best interests of the children, and (ii) the other parent’s custodial rights – in that order.

Court permission is most difficult to obtain when the other parent opposes the move. Although it is much easier to obtain if the other parent agrees to the move, even in that case, court approval is required. The easiest way to to move to a new house with your children in tow is to move less than 50 miles away from the other parent.

Moving Less Than 50 Miles Away

If you are moving less than 50 miles away from the other parent, you need to look at the travel restrictions, if any, contained in the divorce decree or existing custody agreements. If they do not permit the move, you will need to take the ordinary steps to modify these arrangements. The less the move will interfere with the status quo, the more likely the court is to approve it.

Moving More Than 50 Miles Away

Fla. Stat. 61.13001 applies when either parent seeks to move more than 50 miles away from his previous address for more than 60 days. There are two ways to resolve the issues that arise: (i) reaching an agreement with the other parent, and (ii) filing a Petition to Relocate with the family court (usually, the one that issued the divorce decree).

To be legally valid, the agreement must:

  • Be reduced to written form;
  • State the details of the proposed move;
  • State that both parents consent to the relocation;
  • Resolve transportation and related expenses;
  • Outline a new and appropriate parenting plan, including a time-sharing plan; and
  • Win approval from the court.

If the other parent disagrees with the move and you file a Petition to Relocate, it must state the following facts, among others:

    • How you will spend time with your child in a manner that does not interfere with the rights of the other parent
    • 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 new residence, if it is different from the physical address
    • The home telephone number of the new residence
    • The date of the intended move
    • The reasons for the intended move, in detail. If the move is based on a written job offer, it must be attached
    • A schedule for child time-sharing with the other parent
    • A plan for transportation arrangements necessary for the time-sharing arrangement
  • A statement in all capital letters composed of certain legally required wording that advises the other parent of their right to object to the petition

The petition must be signed and notarized, and it must be judicially served upon the other parent and any other person who enjoys time-sharing rights with the child (grandparents, for example). The other parent has 20 days to respond. If there is no response, the court will decide on the petition based on the “best interests of the child” standard.

If the court approves the petition, it will issue an Order Granting the Petition to Relocate. If you need to move before the 20-day response period has elapsed, it is possible to petition for temporary relocation pending a permanent relocation order. Courts generally do not like such petitions and they are routinely denied.

Fifty (50) miles is not driving miles. It is straight line miles or “as the crow flies”. There are onlne maps that calculate this distance for you.

The “Best Interests of the Child” Standard in the Context of a Relocation Petition

Factors that might persuade a court that the “best interests of the child”” would be served by the relocation include:

  • The relocation would be beneficial to the child’s health (the availability of facilities for a special needs child, for example).
  • The relocation would be beneficial to the child’s educational opportunities.
  • The relocation would benefit the child indirectly by providing the parent with a significant financial opportunity.

A relocation with a child inevitably results in a reduction in the opportunity for both parents to play an active role in the child’s life. As such, it can be an uphill battle to convince a court that the move would be in the child’s best interests and not interfere with the rights of the other parent, especially when the other parent opposes the move.

Relocating Your Child without the Court’s Permission

Relocating your child without the court’s permission, without following proper procedures, or in defiance of a court order to the contrary is not a good idea – to put it mildly. Negative consequences could include:

  • Fines
  • Jail time
  • Reduction or outright elimination of your child custody rights

In a nutshell, don’t do it unless your child’s life or health is at grave risk otherwise and you have no other alternatives.

Preventing Your Ex from Relocating Your Children to a Foreign Country

Multicultural families are becoming increasingly common. Unfortunately, this trend can complicate contentious child custody disputes. What happens if one parent takes the children to a foreign country to live? After all, U.S. family courts have no jurisdiction abroad. Here are three protections that you should be aware of:

    • The Two Parent Consent Law: Under federal law, both parents must sign the passport application before a child can be issued a U.S. passport. Don’t sign it if you smell trouble.
    • The Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program: Even if your child has already been issued a passport,  you can enroll your child in the U.S Department of State’s Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program to find out if a passport has already been issued for your child and to be notified if a passport is ever applied for in your child’s name.
  • The Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction: This might help return your child to the United States if he has already been taken abroad.

Delaying Matters Can Only Hurt Your Chances

If you are seeking to relocate with your children after a divorce or if you anticipate being faced with this situation in the future, the time to talk with us is now. Contact the divorce and family law attorneys at Beller & Bustamante by calling (904) 288-4414 or by completing our online contact form to schedule a consultation.

We serve clients throughout the Jacksonville metropolitan area, St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra Beach, St. Johns County, Clay County.