Military deployment is stressful enough, but that stress is compounded when a service member is concerned about how their deployment could affect their custody rights.
Fortunately, both federal and state laws offer protections for military parents and their rights.
What rights do military parents have to custody when they’re deployed?
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) offers some broad protections for the legal rights of recently deployed military personnel. During the first 90 days of their deployment, an automatic stay goes into effect that prevents divorce and custody issues from moving forward in court.
The goal is to prevent service members from being “blindsided” by a divorce request or a petition for custody modification the second their feet are off American soil and when they’re least prepared or able to respond. This gives the service member time to find their own counsel and decide how to respond to any petitions.
California Family Code Section 3047 also provides protections for the custody rights of deployed service members. If the deployment hasn’t yet happened, the court may either expedite the custody hearing so that the service member can participate before leaving. Alternatively, the court can allow the service member to participate via electronic means (video conference).
Under state rules, the court also cannot use a service member’s deployment as a basis for permanent custody changes — even if it allows a temporary change.
In addition, the law grants the service member the right to ask for visitation by a stepparent, grandparent or other family members who have a pre-existing relationship with the child. This can help provide continuity in the child’s life and make it easier to maintain connections with the child’s deployed parent and their family.
What else should you know about custody and deployment?
There are few guarantees in any custody case, and every situation is unique — but you do have rights that are designed to prevent your military service from damaging the parent-child relationship you enjoy. Talking with an experienced attorney can help you learn more.