Georgia’s approach to child custody issues in parental relocation cases

The primary focus in a parental relocation request is the child's best interest.

After a divorce that resulted in a court-ordered custody arrangement for the children between the two parents, it is not uncommon for one of the parents to decide to move away to another area of Georgia or even out of state. In this scenario, the parent potentially left behind often objects to a move that would take the child with the relocating parent, when that parent has primary custody.

Such a move away would likely significantly interfere with the parent-child relationship of the parent left behind because of the difficulty of visitation and parenting time over a long distance.

In this situation, the nonrelocating parent often requests the court to legally modify custody and make him or her the custodial parent so that the child may remain in the community with that parent. The parents may also be able to come to agreement to a change in custody, but either way, to approve a change in custody in a material change of circumstance, the court would need to determine whether the change would be in the child's best interest.

The judge must consider all the circumstances of the case, focusing on the child's best interest and "what will best promote the child's welfare and happiness ..." the judge can weigh any relevant factor, including those in a specific list, including:

  • The "importance of continuity" to the child of his or her living environment
  • The stability of each parent's family, including whether each will have a support system that would also benefit the child
  • Degree of involvement of each parent in the child's "educational, social, and extracurricular activities"
  • The child's "home, school, and community record and history" as well as special needs
  • And more

Georgia law has specific rules concerning the role of the child's wishes in custody cases. If the child is at least 14, he or she may choose with which parent to live, but the judge can deny the request if it is not in the child's best interest. For kids at least 11 but not yet 14, the child's wishes can be considered in the determination of the child's best interest.

Illustrative cases

A quick look at a couple of Georgia cases shows how judges think about the children's best interests in these cases:

  • In Lewis v. Lewis , the Court of Appeals found that, where the parents had joint physical custody, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in giving the father primary physical custody, where the mother's proposed 72-mile move away would make the arrangement unworkable and the children had "strong ties to their school, church and friends," the kids saw their father almost every day and the older children strongly preferred staying behind with their dad.
  • In Gallo v. Kofler , the Supreme Court of Georgia found no abuse of discretion by the trial court when it changed primary custody of the child to the father when the mother proposed moving out of state. The court had considered evidence that the child was "thriving" in Georgia and would have a "better quality of life" there; that his relationship with his father would likely be harmed by such a move; the mother was not financially stable; and more.

Every relocation case is unique. Anyone either seeking to move away with a child or who opposes such a move by the other parent should seek immediate legal advice and representation by an experienced family lawyer to advocate on behalf of the client for the best interest of the children in question.