Summer has often been a popular time for families to move, whether it be across town or to another city or state. Relocating children is never easy, but when that relocation is due to divorce the stress may be even higher. Children are not only saying good-bye to their old home and friends, they may also be saying good-bye to a parent. During this time of transition, it is important that all parties involved work together, putting the best interests of the children first.
First and foremost, parents should consider the impact that a relocation will have on their children. A close proximity move is ideal for a two-household family, affording both parents the chance to be involved in all aspects of their children’s lives. Unfortunately, financial, career, and other factors don’t always allow for a close proximity move and can cause families to be separated by hundreds of miles.
Although it may not be easy to sit down with an ex-spouse/partner, telling children about a move is best done jointly. Parents should be prepared to answer their children’s questions about the move and should have all of the details worked out so they can answer specifics. Parents also need to prepare for an emotional response from their children. They may cry or become angry at the thought of leaving their school, friends, activities, and other parents behind.
It is important for the parents to design a fair time sharing plan that will take into account a variety of different factors, including:
- Age of the child and his or her acceptance of long periods away from one parent.
- Frequency and difficulty of travel.
- How a long-lasting trip may affect the child’s social life and extracurricular activities.
Children who must divide their time between two different locations are asked to make sacrifices. If there is a far distance between their parent’s homes they may miss out on birthday parties, play dates, and sporting activities which can lead to resentment. Children’s emotional growth through their social lives should not be overlooked; and as children grow older they may express the desire to attend social events instead of visiting their other parent.
Additionally, if the child or children being relocated have been subject to a court order for timesharing or custody, the Court has jurisdiction over the child and must authorize the relocation. Florida Statute §61.13001 governs parental relocation with a child. When one parent wishes to relocate with the minor child, the parents can agree to the relocation and notify the court of their agreement. In the event the parents do not agree to the relocation, it is necessary for the relocating parent to petition the Court to authorize the move. When making a decision, the Court evaluates several factors set out in §61.13001 (7) (a) – (k). These factors include the relationship and involvement of the nonrelocating and relocating parent; the enhancement of quality of life for the parent and child; and the feasibility of maintaining a relationship between the nonrelocating parent and other significant persons in the child’s life. As in all matters affecting minor children in the State of Florida, the relocation will be authorized only if it is in the best interest of the child.
In addition to creating a fair time sharing plan, it is also important for both parents to maintain the parental relationship between the children and the distant parent. Both parents should use technology to their advantage. FaceTime is a great tool, especially for younger children as it allows them to visually communicate, connect, and express emotion with the distant parent. Older children can also use FaceTime or video chat, in addition to phone calls, text messaging, and emails. Both parents should facilitate on-going communication and parents should consider scheduling update emails or phone calls so they are on the same page as to what is going on in their children’s lives. Both parents working together, putting the children’s needs first, and communicating effectively will go a long way towards easing the strains that relocation can cause.
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Partner at John F. Schutz, P.L.
Representing clients exclusively in family law cases for the past 24 years, Mr. Schutz is widely regarded as a marital and family law expert. He is Board Certified in marital and family law by The Florida Bar. As a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), Mr. Schutz is committed to elevating the standards and improving the practice of family law.
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