Child custody can be challenging under normal circumstances, even with both parents living in the same town. But when the custodial parent – the parent who has physical custody of a child – wants to relocate with the child, it can be a tough situation for all, especially the child who could be forced to have a long distance relationship with one of the parents.
Lydia Sartain, a family law attorney with Stewart, Melvin & Frost joins us this morning to discuss a challenge some divorced parents face.
Question: What is the law in Georgia as far as a divorced parent relocating out of state?
Lydia: Georgia law does not specifically address parental relocation other than stating that the party relocating must give the other party 30 days advance notice of the move. Also, the Georgia law does not address distance of the move where it would automatically require either parental permission or court approval.
Question: What should the noncustodial parent do if the custodial parent wants to move out of state with the child?
Lydia: If one parent seeks to move out of state and the other parent objects, the objecting parent can petition the court for a modification of custody on the basis of a significant change in circumstances of one of the parties. Because Georgia courts do not have a presumption either for or against relocation, the court will assess the situation on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the proposed move is in the best interest of the child.
Additionally, Georgia courts do not hold a conclusive presumption that a past custody award is evidence of a legal right to retain custody. It is merely evidence in favor of a parent retaining custody that a court will weigh when determining the child’s best interests.
Question: If there is an agreement reached for one parent to move with the child out of state, how is visitation handled?
Lydia: Generally, the relocating parent is required to make a proposed visitation schedule, including the times and places for visitation with the noncustodial parent in the new location. Often this includes extended access times during major holidays, spring breaks, and summer months.
In addition because child custody relocation may invoke a substantial change in circumstances, the parties may also need to seek a court modification of custody or visitation order. In certain circumstances, such as joint custody situations, a court may need to reassess child custody between the parties altogether and suggest the non-relocating parent take physical custody of the child to maintain as much stability as possible.
In terms of increased travel costs, the court may require a 50-50 split in increased fees, or it may require the party who is moving to incur most of the transportation costs related to visitation.
Question: Does the child have any say which parent they live with?
Lydia: If a child is 14 years of age or older, the child has a say in where he or she wants to live, unless the court finds the parent the child chooses unfit. If a child is between 11 and 14 years of age, the child’s preference is one of the factors a court considers when assessing the child’s best interests.
Divorce and the decision to relocate can be trying times for people and requires careful preparation. When a person considering relocating shares custody of a child, it will be necessary to address these issues before any more can be complete.