Members of the military not only sacrifice their lives when deployed; they sacrifice their families back home as well. For divorced military parents, responding to their orders often means having to face custody battles. Unfortunately, it can be almost impossible to respond to a court hearing while you’re on deployment.
What happens to child custody arrangements during deployment?
Relinquishing Custodial Rights
Service members who are deployed for more than 90 days will be forced to relinquish his or her custody rights to another person. But here’s the good news: service members can designate a relative to take over their duties as a parent while they’re deployed.
A hearing will need to be held for this time-sharing modification. The service member will need to alert the other parent of the designation at least ten days before the hearing takes place.
It’s important to note that the SCRA is the only federal protections in place for service members who are parents. Other laws governing custody arrangements for military parents are handled on the state level.
Virginia, for example, has the Virginia Military Parents Equal Protections Act. The Act applies to parents who are deployed or have received their orders to deploy. It requires the service member to ask the court for a temporary order that addresses issues raised by deployment.
The Fight Doesn’t End When You Return Home
If you’ve successfully modified your time-sharing agreement and have a relative looking after your child, you might assume that your custodial rights are automatically reinstated after you return home.
That is not the case.
After returning home, you will need to go back to court to modify the custody agreement once again. This can be problematic for a number of reasons:
- The other parent may contest the change.
- The child may prefer living with the new legal custodian.
The SCRA does provide some legal protection. Under this law, the courts cannot use your deployment as a condition of the child’s best interest. If the other parent attempts to change the legal custody rights while you’re deployed, the SCRA will protect your parental rights.
Create a Family Care Plan
Single service members are required to have a Family Care Plan in place. This plan is a collection of documents that detail who will provide care for dependents while the service member is deployed. Dependents include children and elderly parents.
While a Family Care Plan is beneficial, it’s important to remember that you will still need to modify your custody agreement through the court system before leaving.
If you fail to do so, your spouse may petition the court for custody while you’re deployed.
What Happens if Service Members are Deployed in the Middle of a Custody Hearing?
What happens if your former spouse files for custody while you’re deployed? The SCRA provides a “stay” on any civil proceedings while one parent is on active military duty.
It’s important to remember that being stationed overseas or elsewhere in the country doesn’t necessarily constitute as deployment. Research your local laws to see what you’re up against if you receive your orders.