Child Custody and Relocation Laws in Georgia

Georgia courts deciding whether to allow a parent to relocate with a child must investigate whether the move is likely to harm the child's relationship with the non-relocating parent.

When divorced parents live in the same city, co-parenting may not be easy, but at least both parents can see the child regularly and frequently. When one parent wants to move to another location, however, it's a much bigger challenge to ensure that both parents continue to have meaningful contact with a child. Georgia judges balance the interests in a custodial parent wanting to move to a new location with a child, against the risk of damaging the child's relationship with the other parent. This article will explain which factors courts consider when determining whether a child should stay or go when a custodial parent wants to relocate.

Overview on Custody in Georgia

Georgia judges use a long list of factors when determining the custodial arrangement that serves the child's best interests, including:

  • the child's emotional ties to each parent
  • the child's emotional ties to siblings, half-siblings, and step-siblings living in either parent's residence
  • each parent's ability to provide the child with love, guidance, and a good education
  • each parent's knowledge of the child's needs
  • each parent's ability to provide food, clothing, and medical care
  • each parent's home environment, emphasizing child safety and nurture over material possessions
  • the stability of the child's environment
  • each parent's family unit and support system for helping with the child's needs
  • each parent's mental and physical health
  • each parent's involvement with the child's education, social life, and extracurricular activities
  • the child's home, school and community history, including the child's special needs
  • each parent's willingness to encourage a good relationship between the child and the other parent
  • the recommendation of a guardian ad litem
  • either parent's history of violence, abuse, substance abuse, or crime, and
  • any other factor that affects the child's well-being.

As you can see, the court is willing to look at virtually everything that could possibly impact a child's health or wellbeing when determining custody.

Courts can also modify the custody arrangement if circumstances change. The change doesn't necessarily have to negatively impact the children, but it must be significant. One parent moving to another state would certainly be a substantial enough change for the court to alter custody.

By law, a parent who is changing residences must give the other parent notification of the change at least 30 days prior to moving, and provide the full address of the new residence, so a non-custodial parent will have time to file a petition to modify visitation prior to the custodial parent moving with the child.

Georgia Rules on Relocation

Prior to 2003, whichever parent had primary custody of a child enjoyed the presumption that they should keep primary custody unless the non-custodial parent could prove that the new location would endanger a child's physical, mental, or emotional health. In 2003, however, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned that rule and now uses a rule that says judges must decide whether it's in the child's best interest to move with the relocating parent, without giving any benefit of the doubt to the custodial parent.

Courts look at a whole host of issues when determining whether a relocation is in a child's best interest. The judge won't always grant a parent's request to relocate with a child, nor will the court always transfer custody to the non-relocating parent. A relocating parent should be prepared to show the reasons behind a planned move with the children. A judge will look more favorably on a proposed move for a job opportunity than if the moving parent has no plan or articulable reason for leaving.

For example, in one post-2003 case, a father objected to a mother moving to California with the children and the new woman she was dating. The judge found that the new girlfriend of the ex-wife was extremely hostile towards the ex-husband and had destroyed what had previously been a good co-parenting relationship. The court in this case granted primary custody to the father.

Judges will consider whether or not the children will suffer irreparable harm by being denied regular contact with the non-moving parent. Even if the moving parent's reasons for relocating are legitimate and provide some benefits to the children, that won't automatically mean the court will approve the relocation with the child. For example, in one case in 2003, the court found that both parents were fit to have custody, and the father's decision to move out of state was to enhance his earning abilities. However, the children's pediatrician, minister, and family friends all testified that the children would suffer irreparable harm by not having the opportunity to have regular, frequent contact with their mother; thus, the judge granted primary custody to the mother.

If you or your child's other parent is considering relocating, you should immediately seek the advice of a local family law attorney.

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