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Military divorce: Can I relocate with my child when I get orders?

It's the life of anyone in the military: you get orders to relocate, and you get ready for the move. But if you are divorced and either have joint custody of your children, or a time-sharing agreement where you have visitation with your children, what will the move do to your custody agreement and relationship with your children?

Under Florida law, parental relocation applies if the move is more than 50 miles and will last at least 60 consecutive days. Both parents who have either custody or visitation rights need to agree to relocate the child, under Florida law. Usually, there would be a written agreement signed by both parents, which would define the time-sharing schedule for the parent that is not relocating with the child.

If there are issues with the relocation and both parents do not agree on relocating the child, there are other options. If the parent who is relocating still wants to take the child with him or her, they can file a petition to relocate, and serve it to the other parent. It needs to include the following:

  • A signature under oath
  • City and state of the new residence, and address, if known
  • Mailing address of the new residence, if known
  • Telephone number of the new residence, if known
  • Date of proposed relocation
  • Specific reasons for the relocation, along with proof that the military has ordered the parent to relocate
  • A proposal for revising the visitation or time-sharing schedule with the other parent

The other parent then has 20 days after being served the petition to respond in writing. If the parent does not respond within this deadline, the relocation would be allowed unless it is not in the best interest of the child as determined by the court.

What does the court consider when determining relocation?

In looking at a contested relocation, the court takes into account how the move would affect the current schedule of contact with the other parent, and how they could see the child during their designated time to visit. In doing so, the court takes into consideration:

  • The child's relationship with the parent who is proposing to relocate
  • The child's relationship with the parent who is not relocating
  • Other significant people in the child's life including siblings and half-siblings and their location
  • The age and developmental stage of the child
  • The needs of the child
  • The likely impact the relocation would have on the child's physical, educational and emotional development
  • Whether the child has special needs and whether those needs would be met upon relocation
  • How possible it is to preserve the relationship between the child and the non-relocating parent
  • The child's preference
  • Whether the relocation would improve the quality of life for the parent who is relocating and the child, in terms of financial gain, emotional benefit or educational opportunity
  • The reason for seeking relocation, and the reason a parent opposes the relocation
  • The employment status and financial status of each parent
  • Whether the relocation is sought in good faith, and whether the objecting parent has fulfilled obligations such as paying child support or spousal support
  • The career opportunities or other opportunities both parents would have if the relocation took place
  • Any history of substance abuse or domestic violence by either parent
  • Any other details that would impact the best interest of the child

A family law attorney who is skilled in the area of military divorce can help guide you in this process if this is something you are dealing with, or expect to deal with in the future. Although divorce is never easy, military divorce comes with its own set of challenges, and having an attorney who understands that is crucial to making sure you and your family have an arrangement that is best for everyone involved.

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