Moving from one state to another, or to a different part of the state, is a common life change. But a parental relocation is more complicated when child custody is involved. Either parent whose custody interests may be affected by a move should consult with an experienced family law attorney.
If you have a child custody case pending or an existing custody order in place, a parental relocation may require modification. Having the right legal team is essential to protecting your parental rights, regardless of whether you or the other parent are moving. E.N. Banks-Ware Law Firm, LLC, is here to help.
Options When A Parent Is Relocating
The biggest issue with relocation is what effect it will have on the non-moving parent’s ability to visit his or her child. Even a move to another part of the same city could make it more difficult for the other parent to exercise his or her parental rights. A parent who is contemplating a move will need to provide written notice to the other parent at least 30 days before relocating. Notice must also be given to any other family members of the child who have visitation rights. At that point, there are a couple of options about what to do next.
If the non-moving parent consents to the move, the parties can draft a modified parenting plan and file it with the court. This is the easiest way to resolve the issue and generally works when the parents are on good terms with each other. However, do not overlook the need to file a modified parenting plan with the court. Remember, the parents cannot change a court order on their own. Although both parties may agree to the move, specific terms regarding transportation of the child, time and place of pickup and drop off, and other logistics need to be reduced to writing. Having an attorney is the best way to ensure that these details are understood and mutually agreed upon. The court must still approve the modified order, so it is strongly recommended that you have an attorney draft it.
On the other hand, if the parents cannot agree to the move – or, more specifically, if the non-moving parent objects – then the issue will need to be decided by the judge. The non-moving party may file a petition with the court to try to prevent the other parent from relocating. It’s important to note that a court would not actually keep a parent from moving; at most, it would alter the custody order so that the child does not move along with the parent. The parent who wishes to move may file a motion to modify the prior order before the move takes place.
How Does The Court Evaluate a Request for Parental Relocation?
A parent wishing to move will want to keep the same custodial arrangement (or something close to it), while the parent objecting to the relocation will try to modify the prior order in his or her favor. There is no presumption that the relocating parent will lose his or her custodial rights, nor is there a presumption that custody should be changed in favor of the relocating parent.
When parents cannot agree on how to modify custody, the issue will land before the judge. As with all custody decisions, the court must consider what is in the child’s best interests. With respect to requests to modify prior orders, there must be a significant change in circumstances warranting a change.
Courts reviewing a request for modification based on relocation will examine numerous factors, including but not limited to the following:
- The custodial parent’s reason for relocating
- The child’s relationship with the non-custodial parent
- The child’s ties to local schools as well as his or her friends
- The child’s age
- The stress and instability of relocating and the corresponding benefits of consistency and stability for the child
- The interests of the entire binuclear family (the household headed by the custodial parent and the household headed by the non-custodial parent)
- The dynamics of the custodial parent’s new family unit
- Any other relevant factors
These matters are complicated and must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Also, under Georgia law, a child who is at least 14 years of age may choose who to live with and may request a change in custody every two years. If a child aged 14 years or older has expressed a desire to stay with either parent, the court will consider it.
What To Do If Parental Relocation Is In Your Future
Relocation will affect the entire family unit and will have a direct impact on both parents’ custody and visitation arrangements. Whichever parent you are, you need to take action if relocation is anticipated.
If you are the relocating parent, remember you cannot change the custody order without court involvement – even if the non-relocating parent consents. You should start to gather specific supporting evidence that addresses the above factors. It won’t help your case to only argue generalities or opinions before the judge. Specific evidence is necessary.
The same is true for the non-relocating parent. You will want evidence showing that the move is wrong for the child, in light of the factors above. Your goal is to convince the judge to change custody in your favor to avoid any negative effects that relocation may have on the child.
Get Professional And Dedicated Legal Advice
At E.N. Banks-Ware Law Firm, LLC, we understand the emotional complexities of custody cases. You deserve to know your legal rights and to have a fierce courtroom advocate for you and your child’s interests. Reach out to us today to learn how we can assist you.