Summer is upon us and approximately 70%¹ of all people who plan to move this year will soon be packing up. For families with school-aged kids, the two main reasons for moving during the summer are: (1) The children will not be pulled out of school mid-year and they are not worrying about their homework and grades. And as a bonus, they are around to help with packing, unpacking and setting up the new home. (2) Settling into a new neighborhood during the summer allows the kids the opportunity to get familiar and comfortable in their new surroundings and hopefully make new friends and meet classmates-to-be before starting the new school year.
However, as all family law attorneys know, for divorced parents who want to move with their children 50 or more miles away it is not an easy feat and often leads to a heavily litigated battle.
In recent months I have mediated a surge of relocation cases. The number one reason parents cite for wanting to move is that they are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. The significant increases in living expenses have primarily driven the influx of one parent wanting (or as they state “needing”) to move their principal residence away from South Florida to a more affordable location. This often means moving outside the 50 mile radius and requires that parent to strictly adhere to Florida’s Relocation Statute, Fla. Stat. Section 61.13001.
Why Parents Want to Relocate
Last month the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report² on the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) for the tri-county area, which documented a 9% increase for the 12 months ending in April 2023. This number represents increases across the board in costs of shelter and energy expenses, food, clothing, transportation fares, charges for medical services, medications and other goods and services people buy for day-to-day living.
More specifically in regard to increases in living expenses, “the index for all items (less food and energy) advanced 10.5% for the 12 months ending in April, primarily due to a 17% increase in the shelter index. The index for owners’ equivalent rent increased 18% over the past year, and the index for rent of primary residence increased 19%.
It is therefore understandable that parents, many who work from home and therefore have the flexibility to live anywhere, are seeking out more affordable alternatives to South Florida. To illustrate, according to Zumper.com³ and Realtor.com⁴ respectively:
Three bedroom apartment rentals year-over-year as of May 2023
- In West Palm Beach the median rent is $3,200, a 9% increase. In Fort Lauderdale the median rent is $4,000, despite having decreased 3%. And in Miami the median rent is $5,000, a 25% increase.
- In comparison, the median rent in Jacksonville is $1,790, a -3% decrease. In Orlando the median rent is $2,340, a 1% increase. And in Melbourne the median rent is $2,200, which is flat from one year ago.
- In some of my recent mediations parents were looking to move out-of-state to Georgia, Texas and Missouri. For comparison, the median rent in Atlanta is $2,190, a 5% increase. In Houston the median rent is $1,840, a 2% increase. And in St. Louis the median rent is $1,600, a 2% increase.
Home sales year-over year as of April 2023
- In West Palm Beach the median home sale price is $422.5K, a 12.7% increase. In Fort Lauderdale the median home sale price is $619K, a 7.7% increase. And in Miami the median home sale price is $595K, a 10.2% increase.
- In comparison, in Jacksonville the median home sale price is $305K, a 1.6% increase. In Orlando the median home sales price is $375K, a 3.2% increase. Unlike the stable rent in Melbourne, the median home sale price is $420K, a 7.7% increase.
- For those looking to move out of state, the Atlanta median home sale price is comparable to West Palm Beach, at $415K, a 1.3% increase. In Houston the median home sale price is $347K, flat over a year ago. And in St. Louis the median home sales price is $200K, a 5.3%. increase.
The Burden of Proof
The two sections that I have heard most commonly cited in mediation are Florida Statute section 61.13001 (7) (e)&(g)⁵:
(7) NO PRESUMPTION; FACTORS TO DETERMINE CONTESTED RELOCATION.
(e) Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for both the parent or other person seeking the relocation and the child, including, but not limited to, financial or emotional benefits or educational opportunities.
(g) The current employment and economic circumstances of each parent or other person and whether the proposed relocation is necessary to improve the economic circumstances of the parent or other person seeking relocation of the child.
Mediation is a great forum to explore all of the benefits and drawbacks to relocation. During mediation, the parent who wants to relocate paints a picture of an idyllic new home and lifestyle for their children. In court, however, the parent who wishes to relocate has the burden of proof that relocation is in the child’s best interest.
(8) BURDEN OF PROOF. The parent or other person wishing to relocate has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that relocation is in the best interest of the child. If that burden of proof is met, the burden shifts to the nonrelocating parent or other person to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the proposed relocation is not in the best interest of the child.⁵
On numerous mediations, I have heard a parent justify their position with reasons such as: each child will have their own room; the new home will have a big backyard; they have free housing to move into which would substantially reduce their financial stress and/or they have close family in the new location who can babysit, thereby limiting or eliminating expensive childcare expenses.
In one case that I mediated recently, the parent stated that in order to make ends meet while living in South Florida they have to work three jobs. But if they were to relocate somewhere where the cost of living is cheaper, they could manage with only one job and have more quality time to spend with their children.
Relocation cases are some of the toughest cases to litigate and mediate. However, I have found that reaching an amicable outcome is achievable. For the past eight years I have exclusively practiced family mediations, following my 18-year career in litigation. With my combined experience and expertise, I will help you and both parties remain focused on determining what is in the best interest of the children, while considering the financial implications of remaining in South Florida and the proposed benefits of relocating, until a realistic outcome is achieved.
² U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics