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“I Want to Go Home!”: Relocating with Children After a Divorce

After a divorce, there’s nothing you want more than a fresh start, which is why taking your children and moving to a new location can seem like a wonderful idea. You’re not alone if you feel this way, and many of our clients come to us and ask some version of the following: 

We moved here from ______, and I didn’t want to be here anyway. Now I’m getting divorced from this awful spouse, and I have no family nearby. I want to go back to my hometown (more than 50 miles away) where my family will help me take care of the children. The court will let me move, right?

Not so fast. Relocation is a possibility, but it can be a complex process, and you need to understand everything that’s involved before you try to move your child or children to a new location, no matter how compelling your reasons are.

Defining Relocation

Florida law defines relocation as a parent changing their residence to a new location at least 50 miles away from his or her current address for at least 60 consecutive days. A temporary absence from your home for the purposes of vacation, education, or receiving health care doesn’t count as a relocation. Any permanent change in residence that lasts longer than 60 days, however, is considered a relocation and must be approved by the court.

Whatever you do, do not try to relocate your children without approval from the court. The judge in your case will not look kindly on this, and it can result in disastrous consequences, including:

  • A court order to return the child immediately
  • An order from the judge holding you in contempt of court, which could lead to fines or even jail time
  • A denial from the court for a later petition for relocation
  • A basis for the court to change your current time-sharing schedule
  • An order requiring you to pay the other parent’s attorney’s fees

In Florida, you must file for divorce in the location where you have lived for the last six months, so simply moving first and filing for divorce from your new home isn’t an option. If you and your former spouse agree to relocation, then the court will likely support your agreement as long as it contains three components:

  1. Both parties’ consent to the relocation
  2. A time-sharing schedule for the parent who isn’t relocating
  3. Any transportation arrangements needed to accommodate the new time-sharing schedule

If your agreement fulfills these requirements, the court will approve it without a hearing in most cases, unless either parent requests a hearing within 10 days of filing the agreement.

What the Court Looks For when Considering Relocation Petitions

In many cases, spouses don’t agree on the details of relocation, which is where things can get complicated. Unfortunately, an exciting new job or the presence of helpful family members isn’t necessarily enough to support relocating your children. The court generally favors the status quo, which means keeping your children where they are.

To relocate without consent from the other parent, you must petition the court for relocation and show that your prospective move is in the best interest of your children, as shown through 11 specific factors identified by Florida statutes. (§61.13001(7)).

Those factors are:

  1. The child’s current relationship with both the relocating parent and the non-relocating parent as well as other parties who play a significant role in the child’s life;
  2. The child’s current age, developmental stage, and needs as well as the likely impact the relocation will have on the child’s physical, emotional, and mental development (taking into consideration any special needs);
  3. The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the non-relocating parent and the child through substitute arrangements and the likelihood that the relocating parent will comply with those arrangements;
  4. The child’s preference, taking into consideration their age and level of maturity;
  5. Whether the relocation will enhance quality of life for both the relocating parent and the child, including financial benefits and educational opportunities;
  6. The reasons each parent is seeking or opposing the relocation;
  7. The current employment and economic circumstances of each parent and whether the proposed relocation is necessary to improve those circumstances;
  8. Whether the court believes the relocating parent is petitioning for relocation “in good faith,” including the extent to which they have fulfilled their financial obligations to the other parent (including child support, spousal support, and any other obligations related to marital property and debt);
  9. The career and other opportunities that would be available to the objecting parent if they also relocate to stay near the child;
  10. A history of substance abuse or domestic violence by either parent, including the failure or success of any attempts at rehabilitation;
  11. Any other factor affecting the best interest of the child.

Note that the statues also set forth several specific elements that you need to include in your petition to relocate, and that failing to include any of these elements will prevent your relocation.

For example, your petition must include:

  • The address and phone number of the place where you wish to relocate
  • The date of the proposed relocation
  • The reasons for the relocation (including a copy of a job offer in writing, if applicable)
  • The proposed visitation schedule and plan for transportation following relocation

As you can see, petitioning for relocation is a process that requires you to gather and organize a lot of information for the court’s consideration. Planning the timing of your divorce and your relocation request, as well as how you compare on the various factors listed above, can all prove essential to the success of your request, which is why you should make sure you have a skilled negotiator and advocate on your side before you attempt to move with your children after a divorce.

Contact the Devolder Law Firm for Help with Relocation in New Tampa, Wesley Chapel, and the Tampa Bay Area

Petitioning the court for relocation can cause a lot of stress and anxiety, but it doesn’t have to. At the Devolder Law Firm, our team works closely with our clients to find efficient, affordable legal solutions that meet their needs and address the unique circumstances they face. We also have experience handling estate planning and real estate matters in addition to family law cases, which allows us to serve as your legal partner and “one-stop” resource for the various legal matters that tend to arise during a divorce case.

If you need help with relocation or any other family law matter, the team at the Devolder Law Firm is here to help. Call us at 813-724-3880 or fill out our convenient online contact form, and we’ll get in touch right away to schedule an initial consultation.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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