Changing Venue: Moving Family Law Cases
One question we often receive from our family law clients is if they can change courts, also known as venue, when they move to a new area in Florida from the court where the marriage dissolution proceedings originally occurred to a more nearby court.
The short answer to this question is yes. In family law, the courts in Florida always try to act in “best interests of the child.” This standard will be explained further in this article, but first lets explain exactly how the change in venue process would potentially work.
Before a spouse can change venue, it is important to understand where a family law proceeding can actually be brought. According to the Florida Statute 61.13, a family law case may be brought in “the circuit court in the county in which either parent and the child reside or the circuit court in which the original order approving or creating the parenting plan was entered…” This usually means that venue will start in the court where the divorce was filed, and stay in this court for all related matters such as equitable distribution, alimony, parenting responsibility, child support, and all modifications.
The good news is that once venue is established it’s not permanent, and it may be changed with permission of the court. According to Florida Statute 47.122, a court may grant a change of venue for the convenience of parties or witnesses or in the interest of justice.
A court will consider many factors when granting this request such as where the child and parent with primary custody currently reside, and where the witnesses to the case reside. If both the child and the witnesses live in the county where venue is being sought, then it is likely that a court will grant this request. This is the court basically asking, “What is most convenient for all of the parties involved?” If both of the parents and the child now live somewhere else in Florida it just makes more practical sense for venue to be changed.
However, almost never do both parents in a family law matter agree on what should be the appropriate venue. One parent will often move away to start over and wish for all future court proceedings to be in the area in which he or she now lives. This is why the issue of venue often rests upon what is in the best interests of the child. The best interests of the child standard is a subjective test that changes slightly depending upon which type of family law is being considered.
Let’s examine the best interests of the child standard Florida courts apply when it comes to parental responsibility. The court will look to the following factors:
- The ability of each parent to provide the child’s basic needs
- The physical and mental health of the parent
- The moral fitness of the parents
- Willingness to promote a relationship with the other parent
- The continuity in the life of the child
- Who held the role of the primary caretaker of the child, both before and during litigation
- The wishes of the child, depending on his level maturity
- The geographic location of each parent
- Any domestic violence between the parents
- Any evidence of child abuse
- The ability of each parent to protect the child from the litigation.
As you can see from this list there are many factors a court can consider and each judge will weigh the factors differently. When considering these factors in the context of changing venue it may be in the child’s best interest to “keep continuity in the life of the child” and to shield the child from litigation. A good example of these factors coming in to play may be if the current venue causes the child to travel long distances, or to take time off from school to travel with the parent with primary custody to attend court hearings.
For more information on how to change venue for your family law matter, contact The Law Office of David Goldman PLLC today.
Written by Thomas Morrison, J.D.