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Child Custody When One Parent Is in the Military

Joseph A. DeWoskin, P.C. Feb. 7, 2024

Parent holding the hand of a small childDivorce or separation can pose unique challenges for military parents, particularly when it comes to child custody.  

If you're a military parent, you may find yourself grappling with questions and concerns about how your service may impact your custody rights. Your concerns are valid, as military service can often involve long periods of deployment, frequent relocations, and unpredictable schedules.  

But that doesn't mean you lose your right to visit your child. It just means that you have some special considerations when you go to create and update your parenting plans. 

Who Gets Custody in a Military Divorce? 

In the event of a military divorce, child custody is determined primarily based on what's in the child's best interests. This principle applies whether the parents are civilians or military personnel. Courts generally aim to grant joint custody, fostering a relationship between the child and both parents.  

However, if there are compelling reasons to avoid joint custody, such as abuse or neglect, sole custody may be awarded. 

Determining Child Custody for Military Parents 

The court's primary consideration while deciding child custody is always the child's best interests, whether you're a civilian or a military parent. The unique circumstances of your military service are taken into account to assess its impact on your child's well-being. 

In most cases, courts lean towards joint custody, believing that children benefit from maintaining relationships with both parents.  

However, exceptions may be made if there are compelling reasons like addiction issues or abandonment, where sole custody might serve the child's best interest.  

Remember, your military service cannot be used as the sole reason to deny you custody. As a military parent, you have the same rights as civilian parents. 

The Importance of Military Family Care Plans 

If you're a single parent in the military or share custody with a non-married parent, military regulations often necessitate creating a Family Care Plan. This plan outlines who will look after the children or dependents when you're deployed or away on duty. 

Your Family Care Plan should align with the court-ordered parenting plan and designate a caregiver for your children during your absence. It's crucial that this plan doesn't contradict the court-ordered parenting plan and respects the rights of the other parent. 

The Family Care Plan also includes details about caregivers, financial support, transportation arrangements, and the person designated to care for the child in the event of the military parent's death. Basically, its purpose is to ensure there’s a reliable, well-thought-out plan in place, providing peace of mind for everyone involved. 

Parenting Plans for Military Families 

A parenting plan is a critical component of any child custody arrangement, but for military families, it gets a bit more intricate. A military parenting plan includes all standard elements of a civilian plan, with additional provisions for deployment, mobilization, temporary duty, and more. 

When the military parent is away, the plan outlines specifics about who will care for the children, how communication will be maintained, and how transitions will be managed. It's not just a document; it's a roadmap designed to provide stability and continuity for your children during uncertain times. 

How Legal Acts Protect Your Rights 

Several legal acts protect the rights of military parents. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) helps shield active duty servicemembers from default judgments and can delay court hearings, ensuring they can fully participate in proceedings. 

On the other hand, the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act prevents courts from using a parent's future deployment as the sole factor in determining custody. It provides fair treatment for active-duty servicemembers in court proceedings. 

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) sets rules about which state has jurisdiction over custody cases involving servicemembers' children. This act simplifies the process, especially for military families who move frequently. 

Does Joining the Military Automatically Impact My Child Custody? 

The court can't deny custody based solely on your military service. However, the impact of military service on a custody order does depend on state law. 

Many states have adopted laws, such as the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act, to safeguard the custody rights of military parents. These laws prevent the court from considering a parent's future deployment as the sole factor in determining custody. Instead, the court looks at the impact of deployment on the child's best interests. 

Understand Your Rights With the Help of an Attorney 

Navigating child custody while serving in the military may seem overwhelming, but understanding the process and your rights can ease the journey.  

If you're a military parent seeking guidance on child custody matters, it could be beneficial to consult with a local family law attorney with experience in military cases, such as Attorney DeWoskin from Joseph A. DeWoskin, P.C., serving Kansas City, Kansas, and surrounding areas in both Kansas and Missouri.