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Understanding Military Relocation and Child Custody

It is essential for service members and their spouses going through a divorce to co-parent effectively. Often, military duty or trailing spouse syndrome can contribute to divorce in military families.

Custody, child support, and relocation should all be fair and well thought out to not disrupt the child’s life. Luckily, there are specific military laws in place to help make the process of military relocation and child custody fair for all involved.

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Breaking Down Military Child Custody Rights

Some specific processes and protections are available to help spouses and military members work out their child custody. Deployment can significantly impact a child’s life, so it is essential to do everything you can to make your child’s life as simple as possible.

This is especially true for unmarried military couples with a baby. To create a fair custody arrangement, you should do the following:

Create a Family Care Plan

Creating a family care plan ensures that your child is provided with the proper finances, medical care, and a sufficient amount of time away from home. Starting a family care plan is necessary for a military child custody arrangement for many reasons, like deployment times and relocation.

If the military parent is away due to deployment, it should be determined that the child stays with the other parent during that time. If you need to sell your home during a deployment quickly, it should be well thought out where your child should stay to keep their life undisturbed.

Typically, the child’s primary caregiver is the spouse since there is always a chance that the military parent can be called for deployment or will need to relocate.

Understand Military Service Member Rights

A military service member has rights under the military to protect their claim on their child throughout the divorce process using The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Military members will be allowed to postpone the court proceedings if it affects their ability to proceed with active duty.

The military parent can also receive an automatic stay of 90 days if they request it in writing to the judge. The judge might provide additional stays after the first 90 days. However, this could affect the military parent’s ability to receive primary or joint custody, which is why the military parent should take advantage of the military benefits provided when seeking child custody.

Potential Issues with Relocation

If a military parent’s custody agreement does not include a provision for military relocation and is already in place, both parents can go to court to modify the order to meet your needs.

If the military parent is relocated for longer than 20 weeks, it is considered a permanent change of station. Some potential issues can come with military relocation and child custody:

  • Some states need you to prove that moving your child will benefit the child before approving the request to move the child
  • The court’s determination is based on state laws when a servicemember requests to move their child
  • Some states might prohibit the relocation of a child if the circumstances are not compelling
  • Child custody agreements are subject to state laws and not federal laws

Rights As a Result of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

The SCRA applies to all civil actions, including custody agreements. The SCRA clearly states that there are protections against the entry of court orders if the military parent is absent due to active duty. The court cases can be held while the servicemember parent is unavailable during child custody arrangements.

The SCRA ensures that if your military service interferes with who the primary custodial parent is and how much child support you may need to pay, you should be fully accommodated by the court to be heard on these matters. Each parent should understand the Rule 11 agreement regarding child custody.

Military law also considers it a crime not to support your family. You are paid additional allowances to support your family while on active duty. Family issues, like divorce and child custody arrangements, are decided under state law. The laws differ from state to state.

For example, if you are stationed in Arizona and have been served with a family law case filed in Pennsylvania, an Arizona attorney might be unable to help you. You will need to find an attorney in Pennsylvania that understands family law in that state. Since the SCRA is federal law, it protects civil actions throughout the United States.

Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act (UDPCVA)

The UDPCVA allows states to adopt a procedure that courts can use when faced with unique custody situations. This act does not protect single-parent service members like the SCRA does. The UDPCVA comprises five articles that each address issues when deployed parents are affected by custody and visitation proceedings.

  1. Article 1 explains general provisions and definitions. It requires the deploying parent to notify the other parent of their deployment as soon as possible. The court is prohibited from considering past or future deployment when determining what is in the child’s best interest.
  2. Article 2 sets the procedure for both parents to make agreements out-of-court to custody and visitation rights during deployment.
  3. Article 3 discusses expedited proceedings for parents not agreeing to ensure a custody agreement is implicated before deployment. It prohibits a permanent custody order from being arranged if the deployed parent does not consent.
  4. Article 4 explains the procedure used to discontinue a temporary custody agreement when both parties agree. If they disagree, the court needs to intervene.
  5. Article 5 sets the uniform act language and the technical effective date.

State Laws Related to Military Relocation and Child Custody

All 50 states are currently military custody protection states and have meaningful provisions in their child custody laws to protect the rights of servicemembers.

These provisions ensure that divorce or separation caused by military duty will not determine your child’s custody arrangement. While all state laws vary in terms of protections offered, they all have at least one or more of these provisions:

  • No permanent orders that alter existing custody arrangements should be entered while the primary custodial parent is away due to active military duty.
  • Military absences (past, current, or future) should not be the sole basis for altering a custody arrangement that was in place before the absence.
  • The custody arrangement that was set in place before the military parent was absent should be reinstated within a set time once the military parent returns. However, this is not true if there is proof that it is not in the child’s best interest. The parent who is non-absent should provide the evidence.

Parental Responsibility Agreements

While each state’s parental responsibility agreements differ, all states address similar plans. Most plans address these specific responsibilities:

  • Which parent will provide transportation
  • When each parent will spend time with the child
  • How the parents communicate and resolve their disputes

It is essential the parents have these plans set in place for when the military parent is not deployed. I, you will also need to have a plan for deployment.

Altering Your Custody Agreement

If your current custody agreement does not reference what to do during a military relocation, you can work with your child’s other parent and the court to help modify the custody order. However, there will need to be a necessary reason for your child to relocate.

Sometimes, frequent deployments or moves require military service members to give up custody temporarily because it does not benefit the child.

The court can take away custody rights if the military parent is deployed to another country. In that case, the other parent usually automatically receives legal custody if the military parent is deployed overseas.

How to Deal With the Emotional Strain of Divorce and Custody

As you are going through a divorce and struggling with figuring out your child custody arrangement, it can take a toll on your health.

To help ease the stress of relocation and child custody, there are many resources to help you get through this difficult time. You can attend health and wellness coaching, non-medical counseling, and financial counseling.

Final Thoughts

If you are in the process of military relocation and child custody arrangements, there are many resources to help ease the burden of this situation.

To be sure your arrangement is best suited for you and your child, it is wise to create a family care plan to ensure your child is adequately taken care of. Use the SCRA and UDPCVA to your best advantage.

These acts exist for a reason and offer helpful protections amid a separation and pursuit of child custody. ARC Relocation can help ease the burden of relocation by assisting you and helping the moving process run smoothly. Contact us today to receive a no-obligation quote or a free consultation call.

If you need legal help regarding your custody arrangement, contact your Military Legal Assistance Office to help find the protections and processes available for your particular case.

Note: If you are going through a divorce, separation, or custody battle, please seek out qualified legal counsel. The above article does not constitute legal advice and is for reference only. 

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