Can You Relocate With a Child Before a Divorce in Georgia?
By Heather Frances J.D.
When you decide to end your marriage, moving to another city -- or even another state -- may seem like your best option, but taking your children along can complicate your divorce and custody issues. Georgia has unique laws on parental relocation, but you can generally relocate with your children without the permission of your spouse until the divorce is filed, as long as you don’t hide your child from your spouse or refuse to let him know where you are.
Relocating Before Filing
Prior to divorce, both parents have equal rights to their children. If you and your spouse no longer live together, you can move with your child to another house -- even to another city or state -- as long as you inform the other parent about the move. You do not have to have permission prior to moving, but you must always let your spouse know where your child is located to avoid charges of kidnapping since the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, a federal law, applies to all interstate custody actions. You cannot legally take your child and hide him from your spouse or prevent your spouse from contacting your child.
Filing for Divorce
If your spouse doesn’t want you to relocate with your child, he can immediately file for divorce or a temporary custody order in a Georgia court. If you are still in Georgia, this can prevent you from leaving with the child. Once a divorce is filed in Georgia, neither spouse is allowed to leave with the child without first getting the consent of the other spouse, typically in writing. This limitation on relocation applies until the court issues a divorce decree or other custody order. Thus, if you leave Georgia shortly before your spouse files for divorce, you might have to turn around and bring the child back to Georgia while the divorce and custody decisions are pending.
When decisions about where a child lives cannot wait until all divorce issues are resolved, Georgia courts can enter temporary custody orders until the divorce is final. Temporary custody orders may describe each parent’s ability to leave the state with the child. Georgia courts decide all custody issues, including temporary custody, based on what is in the best interests of the child. Courts consider many factors, such as which parent was the child’s primary caregiver, stability for the child and each parent’s ability to provide for the child. In most cases, the parent who takes care of a child’s day-to-day needs is given primary physical custody of the child. However, if you are the child’s primary caregiver and plan to relocate, the court may give temporary custody to your spouse to provide stability for your child while the divorce is pending.
Relocation After Divorce
Once the court issues a custody decision, typically with the final divorce decree, that custody order determines how you and your spouse are to share time with your child. Georgia does not require custodial parents with a custody order in place to obtain permission from the other parent before relocating with their child, but it does require a relocating parent to give the other parent at least 30 days’ notice of the proposed move. This notice gives the non-relocating parent an opportunity to petition a Georgia court to have the custody order modified based on the proposed move. Georgia law does not provide a way for your spouse to simply prevent the move.
Heather Frances has been writing professionally since 2005. Her work has been published in law reviews, local newspapers and online. Frances holds a Bachelor of Arts in social studies education from the University of Wyoming and a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School.