When a parent moves out-of-state, there can be significant conflict over what the custody and parenting time schedule will be going forward. In determining custody in a relocation case, Georgia courts focus on the child’s best interests, which is the same standard in any custody case.
One parent’s relocation can be an issue in an initial custody determination, such as a divorce or legitimation, or it can be part of a modification action if one parent decides to move after custody and parenting time have been established. Under Georgia law, a parent who is moving must give the other parent at least 30 days’ notice, plus the full address of the new residence. That 30-day requirement is in place, in part, to allow the non-custodial parent time to file a petition to modify custody or parenting time if necessary. In a relocation case, the judge is tasked with deciding whether it is in the child’s best interest to move with the relocating parent or remain with the non-relocating parent. The judge cannot restrict the parent from moving — just determine which parent gets custody.
The Court does not automatically favor the non-moving parent or penalize the moving parent but looks at the facts relevant to that specific case. The relocating parent should be prepared to explain the reasons behind his or her move with the child; reasons focused on the best interest of the child will likely be favorable to the relocating parent, whereas frivolous reasons may harm the relocating parent. Similarly, the non-relocating parent needs to show the court why it is in the child’s best interests to remain in Georgia and why moving is not in the child’s best interests. Even if the moving parent’s reasons are legitimate and will benefit the child, the judge may still award custody to the non-moving parent. The judge may also determine that even though the parent’s reasons for moving are less than ideal, that parent is overall better suited to be the primary custodian of the child. The judge is balancing not only the risk of damaging the child’s relationship with whichever parent he or she does not live with but all the factors related to the child’s wellbeing.
Regardless of which parent the judge awards custody to, one parent will have a long-distance parenting relationship with the child, and an appropriate Parenting Plan is necessary. One issue to address in a long-distance custody arrangement is travel. Typically, a child in a long-distance parenting case will spend extended periods of time with the non-custodial parent, such as summer break and other school vacations. The non-custodial parent also often gets regular parenting time, but it is typically less frequent than in other cases. Sometimes, the non-custodial parent also exercises some of his or her time in the child’s state rather than in the non-custodial parent’s state, particularly on weekend parenting time where it might be burdensome for the child to travel to the non-custodial parent’s state. A long-distance Parenting Plan will establish how the child will travel between parents, who will pay for those travel expenses, and where the non-custodial parent will exercise what periods of time.
Relocation cases are some of the hardest cases to settle and go to trial more frequently than other cases because there is no middle ground on parenting time. If you have any questions about moving with your child or about your child’s other parent moving, contact Porchlight at (678) 435-9069. You can also schedule a consultation with us via https://meetme.so/maxinitialconsult.