Military parents have child custody rights, too
Military parents deployed far from the family home are at a double disadvantage
if their marriage ends and custody of their children is decided.
If military moms and dads are deployed when this happens, primary physical custody is typically granted to the parent who is at home with the child. But there is no reason for a military parent to lose shared legal custody when he or she returns.
As an attorney at Scaringi Law, where I practice family law, I've seen military moms and dads unfairly penalized when it comes to sharing custody. That's why I always urge parents - including military parents who may be temporarily deployed - to never waive their right to shared legal custody over their child.
For military parents who are having difficulties coming to a fair child custody agreement, take heart. The following is how we can ensure that you can remain an important part of your child's life.
Correcting custody slights against military parents
The best way to protect the child custody rights of military parents is to be forward-thinking when crafting custody agreements. Sure, the military mom or dad might be deployed far away for the moment. But military deployments end, and these parents eventually return to their children. So why not plan for this when the custody agreement is being drafted?
Custody agreements can be written with stipulations that anticipate the return of a deployed military parent, thus preserving the parent's status for both legal and physical custody of his or her child.
Even when a parent is deployed out of the country, there is no reason that parent should not have a say in key decisions that impact his or her child. After all, satellite phones, the Internet and Skype are available to military parents so they can keep in touch with loved ones.
Additionally, a custody agreement can include a provision that gives a deployed parent a deadline to respond to non-emergency decisions about the child. This arrangement preserves the military parent's legal custody rights and puts in place a common-sense arrangement for weighing in on important decisions.
If there is a medical emergency or some other time-sensitive decision that needs to be made, the parent on the scene still can take unilateral action.
Forward-looking physical custody agreements
Agreements on physical custody can anticipate when a military parent will return home. In crafting a physical custody agreement that looks ahead to the return of the military parent, we avoid having to petition the court and go through the custody order process all over again.
But what if your custody agreement didn't plan for a military parent's eventual return?
Don't worry. We still can help.
Asserting child custody rights for military parents
No custody order is permanent. Under state law, a parent can request a judge's review of a custody order at any time. However, it is best to wait until the parent requesting a revision can point to new circumstances that could lead to a change in the custody order.
In the case of deployed military parents, the biggest change in circumstances will be their return. Proximity to the child matters most. A military parent of a child in Pennsylvania can't take up residence in Florida and expect to win shared physical custody under a new petition. However, obtaining legal custody is less dependent on location, and parents should always retain their say over key decisions regarding their child.
While on deployment, a military parent should do everything possible to maintain a relationship with the child. This means visiting the child and exercising one's partial custody rights at every opportunity when on military leave. If you are trying to build a case for shared custody, taking R&R in Key West instead of spending time with your child isn't going to help.
Military parents with extended family near the child can use surrogates such as the child's grandparents and aunts and uncles to maintain the child's relationship with this side of the family. Urge your family members near your child to request visitation and to remain actively involved in the child's life whenever possible.
All of these steps will strengthen the military parent's petition to alter the custody agreement to allow for shared physical custody upon his or her return. After all, if both parents can demonstrate a close relationship with the child and a solid household in close proximity, it is hard for a judge to favor one over the other.
If you are a military parent who's been given short shrift when it comes to the custody rights to your child - or if you are any parent looking to alter an existing custody order - don't hesitate to call. Our firm fights for families like yours every day.