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Long Distance Child Custody Issues

Long distance custody issues may arise when either parent moves during custody proceeding or following a child custody proceeding. In situations in which a parent moves during an initial custody preceding either parent may alter parenting plans to incorporate a standard long distance child custody order and certain concerns should be correspondently communicated to the court. In more difficult situations in which a move is made following an implemented award of custody the either parent may motion for a change of custody / motion for a change of visitation to re-evaluate the custodial situation and to alter child custody arrangements as necessary. In such situations it is not uncommon for the parent intending to move to file for a motion requesting sole custody to promote their relocation with the child. If you find yourself in this particular situation it is important to remember that you cannot prevent the relocation of the other parent, but can however file for court related relief from former obligations that may not be fulfilled due to the other parent’s relocation. Most final court custody orders / parenting plans in Georgia have a clause that makes it necessary for both parents to inform the other parent of a relocation a certain number of days prior to relocation to allow for either parent to file a court action as necessary to make alterations to court orders (sometimes as few as 30 days).

Generally, in the case of long distance relocation a standard long distance parenting plan will be implemented for visitation / custody and other contact purposes. This type of parenting plan is usually implemented in situations in which there is over a 300 mile distance / move between the custodial and non-custodial parent. In any motion addressed with the court concerning a long distance move the parents should address matters of advanced notice of visitations, maximum amount of time that could be implemented for visitations, how travel expenses will be handled, and how travel will take place in relation to the age of the child. Other matters that may be addressed is access to telephone communications and interactions by the other parent during the visitation and or parenting time. A court order may also implement how other contacts may take place and accessibility to the child via, text, emails, messages, mail, and web cameras.

Typical Long Distance Parenting Plan: for visitation with the non-custodial parent

  • Spring Break: every year
  • Fall Break, if applicable: every other year.
  • Thanksgiving: from Wednesday through Saturday or Sunday on even or odd years
  • Christmas: seven (7) consecutive days on odd or even years
  • Summer: thirty (30) consecutive days – or for two or three weeks during the summer break period.

A court may consider the effects of the move on the child and make a judgment in relation to the presumed best interest of the child, but there is not presumption on the outcome of a case. “There is no presumption that the relocating parent will always lose custody nor is there a presumption in favor of the relocating parent (Weickert v Weickert, 268 Ga App 624 2004) (Bodne v. Bodne 277 Ga 445 2003).” Factors that may come into question when assessing either the modification of custody or visitation are related to the child’s stability and the necessity of the relocation—it would be unwise to relocate without a practical reason that makes the move necessary or positive.

Things that may be assessed in a Long Distance Modification Case:

  • Childs relationship status with the non-custodial parent—is the non-custodial parent an active participant in the child’s schooling or other activities? Does the non-custodial parent currently use his or her current visitation time or are they currently not exercising their visitations? If there is little to no active involvement then this may not substantiate as evidence to alter a visitation schedule or custody – in favor of the non-custodial parent.
  • Childs local ties to schools, extended families, and friends- If the child is perceived to lose substantial ties to social networks, family members, and friends then a change might lead to an unstable environment for the child.
  • A child’s age or ability to travel can also be taken into consideration.
  • Stress and instability of relocation will be weighed against the moves benefits of consistency and stability.
  • The interest of the bi-nuclear family may also be taken into consideration.
  • Dynamics of the new custodial parent’s family unit.
  • Any other new relevant factors.

If you find yourself in a situation that may require a long distance parenting plan or a modification to implement such a parenting plan then it is necessary to at least consult with an attorney prior to go to court. Consulting with an attorney can assure that all matters concerning the visitation process or contact will be thoroughly addressed. Failure to address all issues regarding visitation and contact can lead to unnecessary gaps in the parenting plan that will require further future court actions. Call 770-609-1247 to speak with one of our experienced divorce and family law attorneys today.

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