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Florida Unwed Parents Child Custody Laws: How Do You Measure A 50-Mile Move?

When a child’s parents are unmarried, whether through divorce or because they never chose to marry, moving the child’s primary residence through parent relocation can be legally complicated. For example, if the child lives with the father in Pensacola and the mother lives nearby and regularly spends time with the child, and the father gets a job offer in Miami, may he move away with the child? The 600 miles between the parents would clearly interfere with the relationship of the child and the mother.

Florida Relocation Law

The Florida statute that controls child relocation is detailed and complex, but the core question is: is the move in the best interest of the child?

A legal relocation in Florida is defined as a move of at least 50 miles for at least 60 days in a row, unless the time away is for vacation, health care or educational purposes.

Basically, the parents may agree to the relocation of one of them and can execute an agreement of consent that sets out how they will handle child access and time-sharing for the noncustodial parent as well as transportation issues. If a previous divorce or paternity judgment sets out different provisions, the court must ratify the new relocation agreement.

If there is no agreement to the relocation, the parent that wants to move has to file a court petition to do so, and the law sets out specific notice provisions to ensure the other parent has time to officially object. If the parties cannot agree, the court must decide whether to allow the relocation based on the best interests of the child.

The law spells out many specific factors that the court must consider, including:

  • The relationship with the nonrelocating parent and other important people in the child’s life that would be interrupted
  • The child’s age and developmental needs
  • Whether logistics and finances will allow a continuing relationship with the parent left behind
  • If the child is old enough or mature enough, his or her preference
  • The reasons of each parent for his or her position on the move
  • Whether the “general quality of life” for the moving parent and child will improve, including financial betterment
  • History of domestic violence or substance addiction
  • Several more particular factors plus anything else that impacts the best interest of the son or daughter

Prior Marital or Paternity Agreements

Often parties reach marital settlement agreements when divorcing or paternity agreements if unmarried that set out, among other things, arrangements for potential relocation, child support, child residence, access of each parent to the child and time-sharing. When such an agreement is ratified by the court, it becomes a legal court judgment and if there is a relocation provision, it controls when one of the parents want to move. Disagreements about interpretation or application of a relocation clause may have to be decided by the court.

The District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fifth District, interpreted such an agreement in May 2012 in a parental relocation case. In Tucker v. Liebknecht, the parents had signed a mediated paternity agreement, or MPA, in which they agreed that the mother would be the primary timesharing parent. The agreement also provided that if she wanted to move more than 50 miles, the father had to give permission or the mother had to get court consent.

An important issue in this case was how the 50 miles should be measured – in a straight line “as the crow flies” or by the driving distance. The court decided that the straight-line standard should be applied based on a couple of things. One, the MPA was in essence a contract and contract terms that are not ambiguous should be assigned their “plain meaning.” Two, the driving distance is less objective depending on driving route. Three, other Florida cases have adopted the straight-line method of measurement such as those interpreting criminal provisions like how far is a drug deal from a school.

Anyone facing a child relocation matter should seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney.