Working out the child custody agreement is often one of the most difficult, emotionally fraught aspects of divorce. However, when one or both of the parents are in the military, it can be particularly challenging. Military parents may be moved to a base halfway across the country, or they may be deployed overseas for long periods.
Before tackling the custody agreement, it's essential to know what your child's "home state" is. According to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), it's usually wherever the child has been living during the prior six months.
If one or both parents are subject to deployments, they'll typically stipulate in the custody agreement that the child will live with the parent who's not deployed while the other parent is overseas. When that parent returns, they'll go back to the regular parenting plan within a predetermined period.
Maintaining communication between the kids and the parent they're not with is particularly crucial for military families. Parenting plans should outline how often and how kids and their parents who are stationed in another state or serving in another country will stay in touch.
The long-distance parent should also be kept informed about their kids' schooling, medical issues and other important aspects of their lives. Co-parenting apps can help parents stay abreast of these things no matter where they are.
Many military parents fear that their co-parents will use their deployments as an opportunity to take legal action that minimizes their parenting rights. Fortunately, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) protects parents (and anyone) serving in the military from legal judgments if they're unable to participate in proceedings. It's important to understand your rights and obligations under the SCRA.
If you're a service member concerned about your parental rights and how to be the best possible parent to your kids, even from thousands of miles away, you're not alone. Your family law attorney can help you work to protect your rights both as you and your co-parent draft your custody agreement and later, as circumstances in your life change.