Relocation is often an important part of starting over following a divorce. For couples with minor children, moving can create uncertainty as to which state has the authority to both dissolve the marriage and make custody determinations. To combat this confusion and to prevent parents from changing the residence of a child for the sole purpose of obtaining a favorable custody order, Florida has joined most states in adopting the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. The act requires a child be present in a state for a period of time before a court can establish a custody arrangement as part of a divorce.
Overview of the UCCJEA
Like most states, Florida has adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act for child custody matters. The act recognizes that moving a child from state to state can be harmful to his or her well being. To that end, the law attempts to discourage parents from moving to a particular state for the sole reason of obtaining a favorable custody decision, referred to as "forum shopping." The act also includes provisions aimed at preventing abductions, avoiding conflicting orders from multiple states, and promoting cooperation and communication between state courts.
Under the UCCJEA, you have a limited amount of time to file for divorce in matters that involve custody in Florida, once a child has moved out of the state. As a preliminary matter, the child must have lived in the state for a period of at least six months to establish Florida as the child's "home state." If the child then relocates out of Florida, you have six months from the date of the move to file for divorce and to request custody, provided you continue to live in Florida. After that time period, the new state becomes the child's home state and Florida loses jurisdiction.
As part of every divorce involving minor children in Florida, parents must complete and file a parenting plan. In addition to setting out parent-child contact schedules, and how major decisions about the child will be made, the parenting plan requires parents to attest to Florida having home state jurisdiction over the child under the terms of the UCCJEA. If the child has not resided in Florida for the previous six months, the court could decline to establish custody, but still proceed to finalize the other aspects of the divorce.
In weighing your options, it is important to understand that some states have less stringent residency requirements for divorce in comparison to custody under the UCCJEA. New Hampshire, for example, has no time period for divorce if both parties live in the state, or if the non-filing spouse is served in the state. This means that you could file for divorce immediately after moving to New Hampshire, and custody jurisdiction would transfer with the move. Alternatively, you could wait for your spouse to file in New Hampshire and then accept service of the paperwork while still maintaining Florida as your residence. This would allow the divorce to proceed in New Hampshire, but keep Florida as the home state for deciding custody.