When you have to relocate after a divorce, your custody agreement will need to be modified, and how complex that process will be depends on the specific factors of your situation.
During your divorce, you do your best to imagine your future. Your custody arrangements for your children contained in your parenting plan will attempt to lay out in sufficient detail many of the contingencies that you may encounter. You devise custody and visitation times that will work with each parent’s schedules. You try to divvy up the holidays, birthdays, vacations, school breaks and any other special time that you would like to spend with your children.
You will have to decide explicitly the important issues of the religion the children will be raised in, their doctors and the schools they will attend. You will need to develop a hierarchy of decision-making and how emergency decisions are to be made when one parent is unavailable.
You will want to include methods for dispute resolution that will not require expensive trips to the courthouse to settle every minor disagreement between you and your child’s other parent. You will also want a process for modifying elements of the custody agreement that will help prevent them from developing into major disagreements and then into litigation.
You can only do so much planning
However, your plans, like much of life, can change. If you have been through a divorce, you already understand that the “best-laid plans” can nonetheless go astray. You could become ill, your child’s other parent could become ill or deceased in some type of accident or your child could suffer some illness.
Your job could change. You could lose a job and need to move to find new work, or you could be offered a fabulous career opportunity that necessitates your moving. Either situation will have a significant effect on your custody arrangement.
In the best-case scenario, it is a great opportunity to advance your career and your child’s other parent is willing to accept a modification to your parenting plan. If you need to move a relatively short distance, from Sarasota to Bradenton, you may be able to adjust your parenting plan and visitation schedule with a few minor tweaks.
On the other hand, if you must move to Orlando or Miami and you have a visitation schedule that includes multiple handoffs between parents during the school year, your plan will need a much more significant overhaul. If the move is to Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas or Seattle, your visitation schedule will need to be rewritten virtually in its entirety.
When there is a disagreement
Even if your child’s other parent agrees, you will need to obtain the approval of the Florida court. If they do not agree to the proposed modifications, you will need to go to court and prevail in arguments to the court.
A determination is made by the court after considering numerous factors, such as your relationship with your children, the child’s relationship with their other parent, other siblings and other important individuals, such as relatives or close family friends.
The court may consider the child’s preference, if appropriate, and the court will look at where the child is in school, whether the move improves their educational prospects, how the parents will cope with the issues of raising the child on their own, away from the other parent. The court will also consider how to deal with transportation of the child between parents and how those costs will be allocated.
If the other parent objects, you want to work through their objections and make a compelling case to the court for why those objections are not valid. You want to demonstrate with as much detail and facts how the move will improve the child’s life and how you are willing to work to help keep the other parent involved in the child’s life if you move across the state or country.
Obviously, the court will be on the alert for any evidence that this move is being done to spite the child’s other parent or as revenge. To request such a drastic modification, you will also want to have “clean hands,” and not come into court with a long history of custody disputes or of violations of the visitation schedule.
In addition to notifying the child’s other parent, you are obligated to provide notice to anyone else with access and entitled to time-sharing (visitation) with the child, such as grandparents.
If you are the other parent and you need to object, you have to act quickly, as the current Florida relocation statute provides only 20 days to file your objection. If you fail to object, the court will examine the petition and unless it is clearly not in the best interests of the child, it is likely to approve the relocation.
These relocation cases can be difficult and complex and consulting with an attorney no matter which side you are on is advisable. An experienced family law attorney from Schipani and Norman, P.A. can provide knowledgeable advice and ensure that your rights are protected throughout this process.