Why Specifics in a Marital Settlement Agreemet Matter in Child Custody
For many years, Florida has had a parent relocation statute that sets the parameters for parents who seek to move their primary residence. When such a move is greater than 50 miles, certain pre-move procedures must be followed.
But what happens if the move is less than 50 miles? Can such a move still be used to modify custody? That depends on the circumstances of each case and also the parties’ settlement agreement.
In order for child custody to be modified or changed, it is almost always required that the parent seeking the modification establish a substantial change of circumstances. What does this mean in the context of parents moving? The recent Florida First District Courts of Appeal (DCA) appellate court decision of Moore vs. McIntoshinvolved both parents moving from their initial homes to locations approximately 20 miles away from their child’s school. However, their settlement agreement expressed a desire that both parties continue to reside in close proximity to one another and addressed procedures to be employed if a move were to occur. Due to these circumstances, the appellate court ruled that such a move was not a substantial change of circumstances because the parties had addressed the possibility in their settlement. The opinion makes mention of established case law that an insignificant move of 28 miles is deemed a “minor relocation”. It is hard to imagine that neither the judge nor the parties’ attorneys were aware of the Ragle vs.Ragle opinion.
This is a good example of poor drafting of provisions in a settlement agreement. Although the agreement established procedures to be used if such a move happened, it did not fully address how such a move could impact any future modifications.
Having a lawyer that is experienced in family law matters and specifically all aspects of Chapter 61 is important when going through the divorce process. Drafting incomplete settlement agreements can result in significant costs and expense later on when uncovered issues arise.