Child custody laws in Georgia govern not only the initial decisions made by the court in relation to a child’s custody and decision-making but also what happens over time. It is not uncommon for life to change, which means that parents may need to make adjustments to existing child custody agreements. For that to happen, though, careful exploration of the rules put in place by the court is critical. That includes relocation laws in Georgia.
At Petrelli Previtera, our child custody attorneys and family lawyers are available to answer all of your questions related to child custody and relocation laws. If you need to consider relocation or your child’s other parent is considering relocating, you need to know your rights and obligations. We are happy to discuss those with you during a consultation.
After Divorce, Can You Move?
Child custody laws make it clear that both parents have to abide by the rules created in any child custody agreement put in place by the court itself. It is best never to overstep these rules, as the court can find you in contempt. However, many situations can occur. Here are a few key factors about moving and just relocating at a distance after a divorce in Georgia.
Does the Custodial Parent Have the Right to Just Move?
In many situations, the court awards one party custodian rights. That means that the child lives with that parent or lives most of the time with that parent. Though years ago it was possible for the custodial parent to make the decision to move and just do so, the court no longer believes that to be in the child’s best interest in every case.
Every situation is different. That is why the court decides to allow or not allow relocation on a case-by-case basis. The non-custodial parent has the right to file a modification to custody in situations where the custodial parent moves or plans to relocate. There is no presumption that the parent relocating will lose custody of that child nor that the other parent will gain custody, though.
Factors the Court Considers in Relocation Matters
How does the court make a decision, then, about whether allowing one parent to relocate is acceptable? In some situations, relocation may seem like an essential step due to medical needs or employment. Other times, it may bring one parent closer to family. Yet, the question the court needs to determine the answer to is what is best for the child.
To make such decisions, the court is likely to use a wide range of factors to determine the best course of action. Here are some examples of what that may be:
- What is the child’s relationship with the non-custodial parent?
- Does the child have close ties to their school or local community programs?
- What is the child’s age, and how does that impact their ability to process these changes?
- What is the reason for the custodial parent moving away?
- What is in the best interests of the entire family, including grandparents or others involved in the day-to-day lives of the child?
- What will the stress of the move mean to the child? More so, will it create significant instability in an already fragile situation?
- What are the benefits of the move to the child, specifically?
- What recommendations does the Guardian ad Litem have in this situation?
- What alternative options may be available to meet all family needs?
In addition to this, the judge may speak to the child about their interest in moving. Keep in mind that the child’s opinion is not always used to make decisions, though. In children over the age of 14, the court will determine if the child has signed an election affidavit to move with the parent who is relocating. This allows the child to have some say in what could occur. The child can also state that they wish to remain with the non-relocating parent.
Considering Relocation? You Need to Notify the Other Parent and the Court
If you are the custodial parent and are considering the need to relocate, you may believe it is in the best interests of your child and family. However, before you do this, it is critical to follow Georgia’s requirements and laws related to the process.
The first of those steps is to ensure that you notify the other child’s parent as a primary first step. This allows for the other parent to have time to formulate a decision on whether they plan to accept the relocation or, in some cases, if they wish to pursue alternative arrangements.
If the other parent does not respond or there is no agreement to be reached, then the court must be involved in the process. Custodial parents must petition the court for a modification to the existing requirements. Modifications to child custody agreements are not uncommon, but they are not always accepted by the court.
You can obtain a modification to a court order in several ways:
- Work with the other parent to come up with a mutual agreement
- Provide written notification of your intentions to the court
- Obtain a court order allowing for the modification
Whenever possible, the best route to take is to come to an agreement with the other parent. This will ensure that the parents ultimately make decisions about what is to happen. When parents have an amicable relationship, they can discuss and make decisions like this without court-required interference. Even if both parents agree to these terms, the court must approve the modification. If not, then it is not legally binding.
Written Notification of Changes
In all situations, written notice of such modifications must be sent to:
- The court
- The non-custodial or joint custody-holding parent
- All parties that have any legally required visitation with the child
This written notification must be sent to every involved party at least 30 days prior to the proposed move.
Contesting a Notification Request
If you receive such a request from the other parent and do not want the child to relocate or do not agree to the terms proposed, you have the right to contest the relocation request. To do so, you will file a petition with the court to block the relocation.
The court cannot forbid a parent from moving. However, they can make changes to the custodial agreements if the parent wishes to move and the other does not want to approve that decision. It is up to the court, then, to determine what is in the best interests of the child.
Court Orders in Child Custody Relocation
There are some situations where parents cannot come to an understanding about a relocation together. This is not uncommon. When it occurs, the court must work to play a role in the decision-making.
It is not enough for a parent to just want to move. The court must see that the move is in the best interests of the child. The court will not modify orders just because a parent wants to move. They will consider all factors related to why this may need to happen. Some of the most important factors the court will consider include:
- Why does the parent wish to move?
- How will the move positively or negatively impact the child?
- How will the child’s standard of living change as a result of the move?
- Will the move impact the child’s relationship with the other parent?
- Will other family members who play a role in the child’s life be impacted by the move, and if so, how will that affect the child?
- What are the employment prospects for the parent in this location compared to that location?
If a child is old enough to voice their opinion, the court may ask them what they wish to do and why. However, it is never advisable to encourage any decision in this manner, but instead to allow the child to voice their opinion without prejudice.
What to Do If You Need to Relocate
As a parent, there are many situations in which relocating may become necessary. Some of the most common reasons for this include:
- Being closer to family for financial support
- Needing a fresh start
- Other economic reasons for the move
- Emotional support that may be available
If you are considering the need to relocate, your first step should be to contact a family law attorney who can guide you. Our legal team will answer any of the questions you have about the relocation process and offer insight into the best way forward for your individual situation.
If the other parent agrees and accepts the relocation, we can draft the necessary notifications to send to the court and help to ensure the court approves of the move. As noted, the court does not prevent a person from moving but may alter the custodial agreements if it deems that to be in the best interest of the child.
If the other parent does not agree, our team will help you draft the necessary notifications and start the court order process. Our goal will be to facilitate the smoothest possible route forward, helping to minimize the risks of any complications. However, we can help with mediation and aiding the court in seeing that the move is, in fact, the best decision for the child.
We will remain by your side throughout the entire process, helping you to navigate any challenges that may occur at any time.
What to Do If the Other Parent Wants to Relocate
If you are a non-custodial parent, and the other parent tells you they wish to relocate from you, there are numerous steps you can take now to protect your rights and safeguard your future relationship with your child.
There are many situations where conversations and mediation do not work. In that case, the first action you can take is a court order to stop the move from occurring. This does not eliminate the risk, though, as the court will then set up a hearing to discuss what is occurring and then rule based on the evidence available.
By working with our family law team, we can help you to navigate this process. That includes:
- Petitioning the court to keep the existing child custody agreement in place while requiring the child to remain local to you
- Petitioning the court to adjust the custodial agreement, perhaps adjusting the order to make you the primary custodial parent
- Request that the court make a decision on modifications to visitation or custody based on what it believes is best for the child
Our goal is never to destroy relationships and families, but when a relocation would be costly to the other parent, and that could impact the child’s well-being and relationship with that parent, we will fight aggressively to protect your rights in this matter.
When moves are more complex, including out-of-state moves, it is critical to have a child custody attorney who has helped many people navigate relocation issues. There are no guarantees here. The court does not always side with the mother or the father. The court does not always side with the custodial parent. However, it is up to you to take action as soon as possible to ensure your voice is heard.
How Our Legal Team Can Help You with Child Custody Relocation Matters
Without a doubt, the decisions made here will impact the child’s life and both parent’s lives for years to come. Make sure you have a confident, experienced attorney by your side to help you navigate this legal process.
At Petrelli Previtera, we have the confidence and skill to help you. We are passionate family law attorneys with years of experience guiding our clients through some of the most challenging custody matters. We are here for you, too.
Do not wait to give us a call to learn more about relocation laws in Georgia and what your rights are. We are here to help you, answer your questions, and provide transparent, honest advice on what your options may be. Schedule a consultation with us now.