Whether you’re a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, or National Guard, your life is one which involves the potential for a lot of relocation. In times such as we currently live, deployment is always looming. Regardless of the circumstances, when you’re separated or divorced and have children, the adverse impact on everyone’s life can be substantial. This would include you, the children, and your ex-partner.
If you read our commentary about Representative Michael Turner of Ohio and his efforts to Protect Our Military Personnel from Custody Changes Due to Deployment, you come to understand that currently there exists no federal law covering child custody arrangements. An increasingly occurring problem, some deployed parents are losing custody of children due to their deployment. When military parents are deployed, their ability to deal with changing custody circumstances back home are severely curtailed, if not impossible to manage.
Even when deployment is not the issue – relocation can be. In what are termed “move-away” cases, most state statutes require the parent requesting the move to demonstrate “a substantial benefit to the children” before allowing such a move to occur. Married military parents don’t have to contend with such restrictions. Divorced or separated parents have to operate within the state guidelines. If a military parent is relocated, chances are very limited s/he will be able to demonstrate such a benefit to the children and this often results in that parent losing the precious parenting time previously enjoyed.
The state of Utah is leading the way with their recently passed law: Bill HB401 Protects Military Personnel from Custody Changes During Deployment. This law protects deployed military parents from losing custody of their children while on deployment. However, laws like this are a distinct minority.
In the absence of such a law in your state, we often suggest that military parents facing divorce and custody issues strongly consider working with their attorney to add a clause to their forthcoming or existing custody arrangement that prohibits a loss of custody due to deployment. No child should lose access to a willing, loving parent due to service to their country. Further, no parent should suffer a punishment so punitive for performing their patriotic duty. You should also plan for the potential that you may be relocated to a new base of operation unrelated to war time duties.
If you can make alternative arrangements with your ex-partner without going through a court fight – that is always the best outcome. Whatever the circumstances, do take some meaningful and official action. The sooner, the better when it comes to parenting arrangements. Don’t simply assume that you can dictate to the other parent what will happen in your absence. Placement with other family members or a new step-parent is not a foregone conclusion in any state, even in situations where you sign a power-of-attorney to another.
When you are deployed, take advantage of every available opportunity to stay in touch with your children. Whether it’s by webcam, telephone, email, or handwritten letters, let them know that you love them, are thinking of them, and look forward to seeing them again as soon as you are able to make that happen.
In the meantime, read the above-linked articles, in particular the one about Representative Turner’s efforts. Call and/or write your legislators and implore them to support him and the effort to protect the proud members of our military from losing custody of their children for doing their duty.
They deserve it.