We’ve been working our way through the Florida “best interests” factors that courts must consider when determining time-sharing (custody) in a case involving children. One of those factors is the “geographic viability of the parenting plan.” What exactly does that mean?
Florida Statutes Section 61.13(3)(e) says a court determining time-sharing must evaluate “the geographic viability of the parenting plan, with special attention paid to the needs of school-age children and the amount of time to be spent traveling to effectuate the parenting plan. This factor does not create a presumption for or against relocation of either parent with a child.”
The issue of where everyone will live, and how that will work for the kids, is a big deal for many of our clients. It’s hard enough for kids when their parents are breaking up, and they must lose the security of having two parents with them in the home. It’s even harder when the home itself needs to change, but sometimes the practical realities of divorce or a breakup make that necessary.
GEOGRAPHIC ISSUES, PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY, AND TIME-SHARING
In Florida, parents are required by law to create a parenting plan for minor children who will be affected by a family law case, like divorce. The parenting plan addresses parental responsibility (who will be responsible for certain tasks and decisions), as well as the time-sharing arrangement that dictates how and when each parent will spend time with the child.
Remember that in making decisions about parental responsibility and time-sharing, the court is focused on the best interests of the child. So when we are talking about “the geographic viability of the parenting plan” we are really just asking whether the plan is what is best for the child, or if it is shaped more to address the parents’ needs.
Let’s say that a family lived in Kendall prior to the parents’ divorce. After the divorce, one parent moved to Fort Lauderdale to be closer to work. The parents insist on each having equal time with their kids, who are six and eight years old, with each parent having part of the week with the kids, and part without, alternating weekends with the kids.
The court is going to ask the question, “How does this time-sharing schedule affect the kids?” If the kids continue at their school in Kendall, things might be difficult. Fort Lauderdale is nearly an hour’s drive from Kendall, perhaps more during rush hour. The children will have to get up very early in order to get to school on time when they are with the Fort Lauderdale parent, and spend at least two hours a day in the car. This arrangement might serve the interests of both parents for equal time with the kids, and the Fort Lauderdale parent might be willing to put in the extra time and miles to achieve this. But it might not be best for the kids. The court may push for a different arrangement that doesn’t put as much stress on the children.
WHAT IF I WANT TO RELOCATE WITH MY CHILDREN AFTER DIVORCE?
Divorce means a new start, and often that may mean a geographical move: to accept a new and better job, to be closer to family, or to find an area with a lower cost of living. A move may be to the next town over, or across the country.
Child relocation is dealt with in Section 61.13001 of the Florida Statutes. There is nothing preventing a parent from moving for whatever reason he or she wishes. Moving with a child, however, and keeping the same custody arrangement, is another story.
The “geographic viability” factor of the “best interests” law does not, itself, create a presumption for or against relocation with a child. What this means, from a legal standpoint, is that the law does not automatically come down on the side of relocation, or against it. The parent who wants to move with the child starts out on equal legal footing with the one who opposes the move.
That said, if you want to move with your child more than 50 miles from where you lived at the time your current time-sharing order was put in place, you are going to need to ask for the court’s permission (if they other parent opposes the move). Then you will need to show by “the preponderance of the evidence” that the move would be in your child’s best interests (not just yours). “The preponderance of the evidence” means that the evidence shows there is a greater than 50% likelihood that your assertion is true.
This can often be something of an uphill battle, but it is not impossible. If you are petitioning the court to let you relocate, it usually helps to have an experienced Florida family law attorney who can help you make a case for the move.
If you have questions about the geographic viability of your parenting plan, or about the possibility of relocating and how that might affect time-sharing and parental responsibility, contact family lawyer Antonio Jimenez.
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