Life happens. There are many reasons people may wish to relocate, whether for a new job opportunity, health concerns, or family responsibilities. But if you're a divorced parent in Florida, you'll probably need permission before you move, either from the other parent or from the court. Learn when and how you must do that.
Florida law sets out specific requirements for getting advance permission when a parent—or anyone else with rights to time-sharing (often called physical custody in other states) or visitation with a child—plans to move. The law defines a "relocation" as a move that will:
(Fla. Stat. § 61.13001(1) (2023).)
This means that the relocation requirements apply when a parent plans to move while a divorce or other custody proceeding is still pending, as well as after custody orders are in place. But a parent doesn't have to seek permission to move away with a child before the other parent has filed for divorce. (Rolison v. Rolison, 144 So.3d 610 (Fla. Ct. App. 2014).)
Also, the relocation law doesn't apply if the parents aren't married and never took steps to establish the child's paternity. In that situation, an unmarried mother would be free to move with her child without seeking permission beforehand. (Lojares v. Silva, 353 So.3d 699 (Fla. Ct. App. 2023).)
Florida's relocation law isn't just for parents with time-sharing or visitation rights. It also applies to anyone with a legal right of access to the child, such as grandparents who have visitation rights or are caring for the child under a court order. (So whenever we talk about parents in this article, we're also referring to those other people.)
If you're planning to move with your child, the easiest way to meet Florida's relocation requirements is to reach an agreement with the other parent and anyone else who's entitled to time-sharing. The signed, written agreement must:
You'll need to file the agreement with the court. Within the next 10 days, anyone who signed the document may request a hearing on the matter (for instance, if they changed their mind). Otherwise, the judge will assume that the agreement is in the child's best interest and will approve it and make it part of an official court order. (Fla. Stat. § 61.13001(2) (2023).)
Without an agreement about a planned move, a parent who's seeking to relocate must file a formal petition with the court to request permission for the move.
The petition must include several details, including:
You'll need to ensure that the other parent promptly gets a copy of the petition. You may send a copy by certified mail (return receipt requested) or use one of the other approved methods for "serving" legal papers in a divorce or other custody proceeding. (Fla. Stat. § 61.10031(3) (2023).)
Unlike the provisions dealing with agreements to relocate, the part of Florida's relocation law dealing with a petition to relocate doesn't specifically say that its requirements apply only when a parent is planning to change the child's residence. Nonetheless, one state court interpreted the law that way, concluding that the legislature meant for its requirements to apply to parents who have their children most of the time (primary residential parents) and plan to relocate with their kids. (Raulerson v. Wright, 60 So.3d 487 (Fla. Ct. App. 2011).)
However, other Florida appeals courts (from different districts) have disagreed with that interpretation. Those courts held that all parents with time-sharing or visitation rights must file a petition before relocating, even if their children don't primarily live with them and wouldn't be changing residences. (Brooks v. Brooks, 164 So.3d 162 (Fla. Ct. App. 2015); Hull v. Hull, 273 So.3d 1135 (Fla. Ct. App. 2019).)
Because of this ambiguity, it's best to play it safe. Unless you and the other parent can work out an agreement about the move and any needed changes to your parenting plan, you should file a petition to relocate before a planned move, whether or not you have a majority of the time-sharing under your current parenting plan. That way you can request adjustments to the plan to accommodate the fact that you'll no longer be living close to your kids.
If you've been served with a relocation petition and you want to fight the move, you must file a formal response with the court within 20 days. The response must include:
If you don't file a response in time, the judge may allow the relocation without a hearing or any further notice to you. (Fla. Stat. § 61.10031(4), (5) (2023).)
Under Florida law, the parent who wants to move must first prove that—more likely than not—the planned relocation will be in the child's best interest. Then, if that parent is successful, the other parent must prove the opposite—that the relocation will most likely not be best for the child. (Fla. Stat. § 61.10031(8) (2023).)
The law specifically doesn't presume that a move should be allowed or not allowed just because it would affect the current time-sharing schedule. Instead, when judges are deciding whether to allow a move, they must consider a long list of factors, including:
(Fla. Stat. § 61.13001(7) (2023).)
After a petition to relocate has been filed, a Florida judge may issue a temporary order preventing the move or requiring the child's return if:
A temporary order might also allow the relocation (until the final hearing takes place) if, based on the evidence so far, it's likely that the relocation will be allowed after the final hearing. But in this scenario, the judge may require the moving parent to provide some kind of guarantee (financial or otherwise) not to interrupt or interfere with the other parent's court-ordered time with the child. (Fla. Stat. § 61.13001(6) (2023).)
Florida's relocation law acknowledges that moving with a child can have financial and logistical consequences. After all, it can be more difficult and expensive to arrange time-sharing when the parents live far apart. So if a judge decides to allow a parent to relocate, the judge may also order that parent to take certain steps meant to ensure that the child will continue to have frequent and meaningful contact with the other parent.
These requirements might include:
(Fla. Stat. § 61.13001(9) (2023).)
You could face serious consequences if you don't get permission (from the other parent or the court) before moving with your child. Among other things, the judge may:
(Fla. Stat. § 61.13001(3)(e) (2023).)
Note that if you've moved without your child after your petition to relocate was denied, and you want changes to your existing time-sharing schedule to accommodate the move, you'll need to file a separate petition to modify the parenting plan and meet Florida's standards for modifying child custody orders.
If you haven't been able to reach an agreement with the other parent about a planned move, you should consider trying custody mediation. An experienced, neutral mediator can help you find solutions that will enable both parents to maintain close, loving relationships with the child—with or without the move.
But if mediation doesn't work—or the other parent won't even agree to try—be aware that it can be difficult (not to mention stressful) for lay people to navigate the legal process and win a relocation case in Florida. It's always a good idea at least to speak with an attorney who can evaluate your case and explain your options.