We live in a very mobile society. Families today move hundreds and even thousands of miles all the time, with hardly a thought.
Until divorce. After divorce, the prospect of relocation becomes more complicated for a parent who has minor children.
But relocation is a fact of modern life, and both the Florida legislature and courts have addressed it. Under current Florida law, the primary residential parent does not have an unrestricted right to relocate with the children, but neither is there anything approaching an absolute bar to such relocation.
If divorced parents get into a dispute over a proposed relocation by the primary residential parent, a Florida court will settle the dispute by considering a number of factors. The most important consideration for the court is whether, all things considered, the relocation will be in the best interests of the children.
How does the court decide what is in the best interests of the children? By reviewing all the circumstances of the case.
For example, suppose
- the primary residential parent and the non-custodial parent are constantly at war
- the primary residential parent has a pattern of making it difficult for the non-residential parent to exercise visitation and bad-mouthing the non-residential parent to the children
- then the custodial parent secretly moves the children 3,000 miles away, to an unfamiliar place to which they have no ties whatsoever
- the custodial parent takes a lower-paying job there and moves the kids into a cramped apartment in a rougher neighborhood than their Florida house was in
- further, transportation between the children’s new home and Florida is difficult, time-consuming and expensive and neither parent can really afford transportation for visitation.
As hard as the court looks, the only reason it may be able to come up with to explain this move is the custodial parent’s unjustified desire to start a new life with the children’s father out of the picture. In a case like this, there is more than a chance that the court will determine that this relocation will not serve the best interests of the children.
But suppose instead that
- the non-residential parent often fails to show up for visitation, deeply disappointing the children, to the ongoing dismay of the primary residential parent
- the non-residential parent is always behind in payment of child support, making it a constant struggle for the residential parent and the children
- the residential parent has been openly searching for a better job to pick up the non-residential parent’s financial slack
- then the primary residential parent gets offered a dream job 3,000 miles away, in the same city as the children’s grandparents and other extended family members
- the grandparents and other relatives are thrilled and offer to babysit and help out in other ways too
- with the career-enhancing job will come a big raise, plus a housing allowance.
Now, the residential parent will be able afford to move the children into a larger home in a better neighborhood, with top notch schools for the children and more cultural enrichment programs. The custodial parent will also be able to afford to pay transportation expenses for any visitation that the non-custodial parent might actually care to exercise. Further, the primary residential parent offers to pay for the non-residential parent’s long distance telephone service, high speed internet access and a web camera to facilitate meaningful contact with the children despite the distance.
The primary residential parent openly discusses the proposed move with the non-residential parent well in advance to work out an arrangement and then seeks permission from the court to move with the children. In a case like this, it would hardly be surprising if the court determines that this relocation will serve the best interests of the children.
While parents may think that they would prefer black and white rules of law to look to, in fact, such fixed, rigid rules usually don’t allow judges the flexibility they need to evaluate all the circumstances of the entire case (as in the hypothetical cases above) so as to reach a decision that will serve the best interests of the children. The best guidance in any particular case almost always comes from real court cases that have already been decided.