Working out child custody is hard enough without adding the challenges of one or both parents serving in the armed forces. Custody complications can arise when circumstances related to your military career arise, such as a temporary transfer, mobilization or even deployment. Learn the ins and outs of preparing a military parenting plan to protect your parenting rights and provide for your children’s needs.
Military Duty and Child Custody
Most states uphold custody laws that say if one parent is voluntarily absent from the children’s lives and does not complete visitations, that parent’s custody rights can be changed. When you are serving in the armed forces, technically fulfilling your job duties left you open to legal action concerning custody. For example, if you had custody of your children but then were deployed for an extended period of time, the other parent could possibly file for permanent custody.
There were several high-profile cases in the last decade where deployed parents returned home to find that they had been stripped of custody and that the family courts were reluctant to restore custody because of their absence. While these men and women were preserving the interests of their country, they were losing their children.
Because service member parents have a limited ability to travel in certain circumstances, plus the high cost of travel from some areas of the world where they may be stationed, it is difficult for every deployed parent to engage in custody hearings. It wasn’t unusual for divorced military parents to lose custody of their children and spend lots of money trying to regain it.
Helpful Laws Protect Military Parents
The U.S. government, as well as several states, recognized the unfairness of these actions, especially when deployment or other mandatory service was being counted against parents in custody issues. Today, such parents are protected by laws that restrict legal actions at certain times against those serving in the armed forces, including custody hearings.
Service member parents are allowed to have expedited custody hearings that take place before they leave, if possible. They can also deliver testimony via phone or other electronic means. Family courts cannot take permanent custody action taken against them while they are away for certain types of service. The away parents should still retain decision-making abilities where reasonable, and can even designate visitation time with extended family members.
Now, military parents can generally receive the custody levels they enjoyed before deployment within 10 days of their return from duty. No hearings are necessary for this action. While the other parent can try to take action, the family court cannot hold your deployment against you in determining custody.
Delegating Time While Deployed
Deployed parents can designate some of their unused visitation time with a third party, usually grandparents or other close relatives. The current laws don’t allow the other parent to restrict or overrule the away parent’s wishes when it comes to delegating that time. As long as the third-party member is approved by the court, this delegation will be allowed for as long as the military parent is deployed.
The family courts recognized the service member’s right to have a voice in who the children interact with, just as if he or she were home. Many deployed parents feel that this is a big improvement to staying in contact with their children. Often, the other parent may not make the effort to help the children communicate with the away parent. The service member’s family can preserve those bonds by including the children in family activities, making contact with the military parent and providing emotional support while they are away.
Military Parenting Plans
It’s important to create a parenting plan that takes service member parents into consideration, especially in the event of a deployment or transfer. You and the other parent can create a basic parenting plan for when you are nearby, then create a temporary parenting plan that is in effect while you are away.
Getting a temporary custody in place before you leave is typical of most divorced military parents. You will likely be able to receive expedited custody hearings in order to put your affairs together. If you and the other parent have a sample plan already made up, you can present it to the family court for approval. This temporary parenting plan will end once you return, according to the law.
Children deserve to have a loving, healthy relationship with both parents. Today’s military parents face fewer risks of losing your custody privileges after they return. After many years of struggling to keep or regain custody of their children after deployment, military parents are now covered under protective laws that preserve their parent-child relationships.
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