One of the many contentious issues in child custody cases arises when one parent seeks to move out of state, bringing a couple’s minor children along. Often, the other parent has little recourse when the custodial parent seeks to make such a move. However, some states, including Georgia, have made it somewhat easier for a non-custodial parent to have a say-so.
In Bodne v. Bodne, 588 S.E.2d 728 (2003), the Georgia Supreme Court broke with previous case law by adopting a best interest standard when one parent seeks to move out of state with a couple’s children. Prior to the 2003 Bodne case, there was a presumption in favor of allowing a parent to relocate. This meant that a custodial parent could move out of state unless the other parent could show that the move would harm the child. This was often difficult to show, and many non-custodial parents had little say when the custodial parent relocated with the couple’s children. Following the decision in Bodne, judges no longer apply such a presumption. Instead, judges will consider, on a case-by-case basis, whether the move is in the best interests of the children involved.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of the Bodne case is that it treats a custodial parent’s decision to relocate as a substantial change in circumstances, giving the non-relocating party the right to petition the court to modify custody without having to show that any harm will come to the child from the relocation.
The Best Interests Standard and Relocation in Georgia
The best interest standard is not new to Georgia family law cases. Judges routinely apply the best interest standard in custody cases, in which the judge considers a number of factors to determine what arrangement works best for the child. Some of the factors include:
- The relationship between the child and each parent
- The capacity of each parent to carry out his or her parental duties
- Each parent’s knowledge of the child’s needs
- The ability of each parent to provide for the child’s basic needs
- The safety of each parent’s living arrangements
- The desirability of maintaining continuity in the child’s living arrangements
- The stability of each parent’s family unit and the presence of a community support network for the child with each parent
- The mental and physical health of each parent
- The involvement of each parent in the child’s extracurricular activities
- The child’s school history and educational needs
- Each parent’s past performance of parenting responsibilities
- The willingness and ability of each parent to foster a close parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent
- Any criminal history of either parent or history of domestic abuse
The Georgia court’s decision in Bodne reflects a growing trend among courts to use the best interest standard in child-related cases. For parents involved in custody cases, this means that judges will have greater discretion to determine whether a parent’s decision to move out of state serves the couple’s children. If you are seeking to relocate outside of Georgia, understand that the judge will consider all the ways in which the move will impact your children. Conversely, if your partner wishes to relocate out of state and you object, you can ask the court to modify the custody agreement.