Posted On: December 5, 2012

If My Ex Moves to Another State, Can He/She Change Our Custody Order?

One question that is common among Georgia parents who share child custody is: “If my ex-spouse moves to another state may he or she change the custody order in that state?” If this question has ever crossed your mind as a parent, the following information will be of particular interest to you.

Georgia, along with several other states, has adopted a law called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which addresses this particular issue. The UCCJEA sets standards for when a court may make a custody determination, when a court must comply with an existing child custody order from another state, and when and how a state may enforce a preexisting child custody order from another state. This law helps standardize how custody orders are treated. This in turn helps solve many problems created by disagreements over custody between parents living in different states, like whether or not the custody order should be modified.

Generally, a court may not make an initial custody determination or modify a pre-existing custody decision entered in another state, unless the following criteria are met:
(1) The state is the home state of the child on the date the modification proceeding is initiated, or the state was the home state of the child within six months before the modification proceeding was initiated and the child is currently absent from the state but a parent or person acting as a parent continues to live in the state;
(2) A court of another state does not have jurisdiction under section (1), or a court of the home state of the child has declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that the state seeking to modify is the more appropriate forum … and:
(a) The child and the child's parents, or the child and at least one parent or a person acting as a parent, have a significant connection with the state other than mere physical presence; and
(b) Substantial evidence is available in this state concerning the child's care, protection, training, and personal relationships;
(3) All courts having jurisdiction under sections (1) or (2) have declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that the court seeking to modify is the more appropriate forum to determine the custody of the child; or
(4) No court of any other state would have jurisdiction under the criteria specified in sections (1), (2), or (3) above.
See O.C.G.A. §§ 19-9-61; 19-9-63.

Additionally, a court of the state that entered the original order must have determined it no longer has exclusive, continuing jurisdiction over the matter under the UCCJEA or that a court in the state seeking to modify the order would be a more convenient forum under the UCCJEA; or that a court of the state seeking to modify the order or a court of the state which entered the original order determines that neither the child nor the child's parents or any person acting as a parent presently resides in the state where the original order was entered. See O.C.G.A. § 19-9-63.

If the above mentioned criteria are not met, the new state in which the non-custodial parent is seeking a modification may not enter an order modifying child custody. In essence, if your original child custody order was entered by a Georgia court and you and your child are still residents of the state of Georgia, it is very unlikely that your co-parent will be able to obtain a modification of child custody in any other state. However, like any rule, exceptions do apply. If you would like further information on how this law may affect your child custody matter, please contact one of our knowledgeable and courteous family law professionals.

By A. Latrese Martin, Associate Attorney, Meriwether & Tharp, LLC