A Georgia mother recently lost primary physical custody of her child when the court found that her planned move to New York was not in the child’s best interest. In that case, shortly after their divorce in which the Mother received primary physical custody of the parties’ child, the Mother notified the Father that she planned to move with the child to New York. Gallo v.Kofler, S11A0185 (2011). The Father filed a Petition for Modification of Custody and, after a hearing, the trial court issued an order giving the Father primary physical custody.Id. The Mother appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in modifying custody solely because of her planned move. Id.
The Supreme Court of Georgia disagreed with the Mother. Generally, in looking at a possible custody change, the trial court must be guided by the best interests of the child. Id. Though“self-executing change of custody provisions that would automatically change custody to a non-custodial parent in the event that the custodial parent moved to another location at some point in the future are invalid,” that does not mean that the trial court is required to wait until the Mother moved to New York to determine whether a modification of custody was in the child’s best interest. Id. at 3. There was evidence at the hearing that “the child had been thriving in Georgia,” the child would have a better quality of life in Georgia than in New York, the child’s relationship with the Father could be harmed by a move, and the Mother was financially unstable. Id. at 3-4. The Supreme Court of Georgia found this evidence to sufficiently support the trial court’s decision to change physical custody to the father. Id. at 4.