Custody issues can be difficult in any separation or divorce, but they become more complicated when one or both parents are members of the military. Military careers can require permanent or temporary transfers, long-term or short-term deployments, and deployments with little or no notice. If you are separated or divorced, your custody arrangements need to take into account possible deployments or transfers.
Military service is not supposed to have a negative impact on custody arrangements. Judges are supposed to award custody on factors that are in the best interests of the child. However, some people worry that the courts will consider military parents as unsuitable for custody due to the nature of their employment. Sometime the non-military parent will sue for divorce or custody while the military parent is deployed, thinking that doing so will help that parent secure custody. Should you be sued for divorce or custody while on active military duty, you can request a 90-day stay order to allow you time to consult with an attorney.
All divorcing parents should have a detailed custody agreement. If you are a military parent, the need for a custody agreement is even more critical. If you have joint custody with the other parent, that parent will usually have custody while you are deployed or unavailable. If you have sole custody, transfer to the other parent could be considered a change in the custody agreement and present problems upon your return. In this case, transfer of custody to a new spouse or other family member, such as an aunt, will need to be arranged.
The military requires a Family Care Plan if you have sole custody or if you share custody with the other parent and are no longer married to that parent. It is also required if both parents are in the military, or if you are the sole caretaker of a child or disabled spouse or family member.
The Family Care Plan specifies who will be the short-term and long-term caregivers, including alternates. It includes information about financial support (including powers of attorney), transportation arrangements, medical details and medicine schedules, educational arrangements, religious arrangements, and any other information necessary to transfer care to designated caregivers. The plan also includes details regarding care in the event of your death. The Family Care Plan is very detailed and tries to cover every possibility that could face the service member.
The Family Care Plan needs to be reviewed and updated annually, and whenever you welcome a new child into the family. All caretakers must sign the plans each time they are updated. If you have sole custody and the other parent will not be the caretaker, he or she must sign the Family Care Plan. If the other parent does not consent, a court order may be necessary to certify the plan.
If you are in the military and are just now getting separated or divorced, your Family Care Plan should be included in the custody agreement. Conflicting provisions in the two agreements could present issues you don’t need. Your custody arrangements should also include the possibility of moving out-of-state due to military service.
North Carolina, along with other states, have laws that provide that parents can temporarily modify an existing custody court order while one parent is deployed. Once the deployed parent returns, the original custody order is “revived”.
Custody arrangements can be quite complicated for military personnel. To make sure that your rights are protected and that your children are properly cared for, you should consult a civilian attorney who has experience in custody issues involving the military and who knows the state custody laws where you live. You can also have a military lawyer work with your lawyer to assure that your children are protected.
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