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Can I Relocate After My Divorce?

ByThe Spence Law Firm Jan. 7, 2021

If you do not have any children together, you can typically relocate at will; however, if you do have children in common, then parents may not relocate more than 50 miles away without getting a court order first. As the story below details, failing to follow the law when relocating can lead to severe consequences.

In this almost too crazy to believe story, a West Virginia woman named Elizabeth Jo Shirley was arrested after she took her 6-year-old daughter to broker a deal with Russian officials in Mexico. Unfortunately, she failed to return her daughter to the father before traveling to Mexico to engage in treason. The father called police after mother failed to return the child, which eventually triggered an investigation by the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice. It turns out that Shirley traveled to Mexico in July 2019 with her child and a trove of sensitive documents she stole from her previous employer, the Office of Naval Intelligence, Departments of Defenses and Energy, and the NSA, among others. Her plan was to give the information to the Russians while in Mexico, which was where she was arrested and where the child was recovered. In July 2020 Ms. Shirley pleaded guilty to two counts: willful retention of national defense information and international parental kidnapping. Shirley faces up to 13 years in federal prison and $500,000 in fines.

Her saga unraveled in July 2019. Ms. Shirley had time-sharing with her 6 year old daughter in July 2019, but the girl’s father was the primary custodial parent at the time. When the time came to return her daughter to the father after her summer time sharing, Ms. Shirley told the girl’s father and stepmother that she was having car issues and would return the child the following day. She did not and the father called the police. Shirley never actually got on the plane to return her daughter. A license plate camera caught Shirley’s vehicle on film, about two miles from the Baltimore-Washington Airport. FBI agents were also informed that American Airlines provided the mother with hotel compensation for a canceled flight. While thousands of children are reported missing by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) each year, it is unfortunately still true that the non-custodial parents are typically suspect number 1 in any case where the child has been abducted. After Shirley failed to return her daughter to the girl’s primary custodians, a missing person report was filed and the father filed emergency paperwork and received exclusive custody in family court. A month later, in August 2019, Shirley and the 6-year-old child were found at a hotel in Mexico City by U.S. Marshals and Mexican law enforcement officials. Although she attempted to contact the Russians it appears she was not successful. UPDATE: In January 2021, the misguided mother was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison for international parental kidnapping and stealing secret government documents that she planned to sell to Russia.

Relocating With a Child from Orlando

Although the Supreme Court of the United States has long recognized the constitutional right to travel, parents and other individuals who have the right of access to a child may not relocate freely. Charges of kidnapping or violation of a current order or judgment can be avoided by complying with Florida Statutes section 61.13001, which sets out the requirements for parental relocation with a child. Bear in mind that the statute prohibits unauthorized relocation, meaning a move more than 50 miles from the previous address, only if there is an existing order or judgment regarding custody and time sharing for the child.

The statute provides that parties may relocate by agreement or by filing a petition to relocate, which must comply with the requirements of the statute. Relocation by agreement between parties entitled to access or time-sharing can be shown through a signed written agreement. The agreement must indicate consent to the relocation, define an access or time-sharing schedule for the non-relocating party, and any related transportation arrangements. The parties can always amend or modify the final judgment entered in their case. If there is no agreement, the party seeking relocation must file a verified petition to relocate and serve it upon the other parent, and every other individual entitled to access to or time-sharing with the child.

The non-relocating party must file a verified response agreeing to or objecting to the proposed relocation outlined in the petition. Failure to comply with the requirements set out in section 61.13001(3), may permit the requesting party to relocate by default, lead to contempt proceedings. Conversely, the court may initiate other actions to compel the child’s return if relocated improperly. More importantly, the court may take the previous non-compliance into account in any action concerning the parenting plan, access, or time-sharing.

The decision of whether to relocate with a child should not be made in haste. Meet with a relocation attorney in Orlando and discuss the different possibilities. Making such an important decision without talking with a lawyer and taking into consideration the consequences can cause several adverse effects that will significantly impact the child, as the case above demonstrates. When relocating with a child, it is imperative to think before you move.

Consult With an Experienced Relocation Attorney in Orlando

Call the Spence Law Firm today to schedule your free and confidential video or phone consultation with an experienced child relocation attorney.