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Is relocating possible for a custodial parent in Georgia?

Sometimes, after a divorce or the breakup of unmarried parents, circumstances dictate that a parent with physical custody of the children move out of Georgia. On this blog, we have previously discussed the types of legal and residential custody that can be awarded to parents, and the fact that modifying such an order requires there to be a change in circumstances. But, is relocation enough of a change to cause a parent to lose custody?

Not so long ago, Georgia courts presumed that any relocation by the custodial parent was in the best interests of the child. To stop the move, the non-custodial parent could show that the custodian was no longer fit to fulfill that role, or that the children's situation would change such that their emotional, physical or mental well-being was jeopardized. That changed when the Georgia Supreme Court decided the case of Bodne v. Bodne in 2003. In that case, a custodial father decided to move to another state for a better job, but the mother petitioned to change custody. The trial court gave custody to the mother, and the appeals court reversed. The state supreme court reversed the appellate court's decision, and overruled the presumption in favor of the custodial parent's move.

Generally speaking, the court ruled that trial courts need to inquire as to whether the move is in the child's best interests. The court must take all the evidence into consideration without requiring the non-custodial parent to rebut a presumption. The upshot of this is that a move out of state may be enough in and of itself to trigger a hearing on a modification of custody if the non-custodial parent objects.

It is important that parents understand the potential legal consequences of their decisions, especially as it regards the custody of their children. As the rule regarding relocation is now going to vary greatly depending on the facts of each case, and even what judge may be hearing it, it may be wise for parents to consider consulting an experienced Georgia family attorney.

Source: Georgia Commission on Dispute Resolution, "Case Watch: For Mediators," Mary Ellen Cates, accessed Feb. 25, 2016

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