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Atlanta�Divorced parents who move out of state risk losing custody of their children under a recent decision by the Georgia Supreme Court. The court overruled years of Georgia case law when it ruled, 4-3, that custody issues can be revisited if the primary guardian decides to leave the state. Lower courts now may consider how a parent’s move will affect a child and use that as a basis for changing custody. Courts “must consider the best interests of the child and cannot apply a bright-line test” in such cases, Justice Carol W. Hunstein wrote. Before last week’s decision, a primary caretaker could move without fear of reopening costly and emotional custody issues. Noncustodial parents could seek a change in visitation rights, but they couldn’t contest custody successfully unless they could prove adverse living conditions, according to Randall M. Kessler, a family lawyer with Kessler & Schwarz of Atlanta. Kessler, who frequently lectures on family law, said the ruling will have “a gigantic impact on custody cases. It’s been a long time coming.” In a dissent, Justice Robert Benham, joined by justices George H. Carley and Hugh P. Thompson, said the ruling could result in trial courts being bogged down with relitigating custody cases. The majority opinion ends years of clear rules regarding domestic custody disputes and could result in confusion and costly litigation, Benham wrote. Bodne v. Bodne, No. S03G0275 (Ga. Sup. Ct. Nov. 10, 2003). John C. Mayoue of Atlanta’s Warner, Mayoue, Bates, Nolen & Collar, who represented the custodial parent in the case, said, “This strikes me as a wholesale rejection of an established body of Georgia custody law. I believe that this will open the floodgates of custody relitigation and perhaps encourage the renewal of hostilities related to earlier custody decision between parents.” Winning attorney James M. Allison Jr. of Douglasville, Ga., couldn’t be reached for comment.

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