Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Child Custody

How are travel costs taken into account when parents do not live in the same state, or even the same country, in a Florida child custody case? Travel costs to effectuate time-sharing are part of child support considerations and the court must apportion the same appropriately. Exorbitant travel costs were an issue in the case Hiatt v. Mathieu, 4D22-1198 (Fla. 4th DCA August 24, 2022).

In this paternity case, the child was born in the United States. The father, who was a dual citizen of the United States and Belgium, moved to Belgium during the pandemic after he lost his job. Thereafter he filed a petition to establish a parenting plan with his son. The mother’s income was less than $4,000 per month and the father remained unemployed by the time of trial. The mother argued visits with the child should occur in Florida, while the father requested that the child be permitted to visit him in Belgium. There was testimony that if the child were to visit Belgium twice per year, plus three times per year every other year, travel costs to effectuate time-sharing would be at least $4,200.00. After a trial, the court awarded the relief requested by the father, granting him timesharing every winter break, every summer and every other spring break. The court ordered that the parties pay fifty percent of travel costs to effectuate time-sharing. The father was ordered to pay less than $150.00 per month in child support. The mother appealed.

The appellate court found error in the trial court’s decision. It held “The trial court did not consider the parents’ limited means in setting the timesharing plan. The child support guidelines worksheet adopted by the trial court determined that the mother had a net monthly income of $3,591. The mother’s financial affidavit stated that she had monthly expenses of $5,453. The father was unemployed, and the court imputed income to the father at a minimum wage level. Despite this precarious financial situation, the trial court ordered each party to pay for international travel two to three times per year. [. . .] Thus, including the alternating spring break visit, each parent would have a minimum of$4,200 or $6,300 in airline flights alone per year, not to mention a hotel room at either end, ground transportation, and the like. For the mother, the expense to her would be far in excess of the child support she receives from the father and, in alternating years, well in excess of ten percent of her income. Moreover, the trial court did not account for any lost income to the mother for the number of times she might have to leave her employment to accompany her son. Even if the father receives support from his family to pay for this expense, the mother has no such support system, and it is unreasonable to think that she can afford such travel on her modest means. And all this because the father unilaterally moved to Belgium and created this difficulty for himself in maintaining his relationship with his child. The court abused its discretion by imposing on the parties, particularly the mother, the enormous financial cost of the travel expenses of international travel without a consideration of how the parents could possibly pay for such travel.”

The court also found it was error to alternate the tax dependency exemption between the parties where the father did not request this relief and where relief was not supported by any evidence, since the father was unemployed, residing abroad, and presented no evidence that he could take advantage of the tax deduction.” Schedule your meeting with a Miami family law attorney to understand how the law may apply to the facts of your case.