It can be painstaking when members of the armed forces face long periods away from their children. Either away on training or deployed somewhere overseas, it can weigh down on relationships. Under strain, the family can break up and potentially face divorce and child custody arrangements.
If you happen to find yourself in this position, here are some things you should know.
While you're away
You may have heard horror stories from someone in your unit about how their ex didn't allow him to contact his children while he was deployed. Despite the threats an ex could make against you while you are away, you are protected from legal action through the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). This important legislation not only could relate to child custody but can act for any other problems that develop while you're away such as leases, evictions and vehicle towing.
Family Care Plan
Before relocating for service, you, as the military parent, are required to revise what's known as a Family Care Plan. It details how the child will receive care while you are away. The plan covers a variety of considerations with detailed instructions, including but not limited to:
- Schedules for school
- Daily routines - food, transport, sport, religion
- Medical data, passwords, bank account numbers
- Key contacts and documents to use in an emergency
This is the temporary plan for while you are deployed or mobilized. It does not necessarily affect a more permanent child custody agreement.
A Child custody agreement is the overarching agreement that will dictate your child's care. As with a civilian child custody arrangement, the goal will be to place your child in a home that best suits him or her. Once separated, both you and your ex will have to work together, or under dispute, to sort this out.
A key consideration during this process will be your responsibilities to assignments interstate or overseas and how they will affect your role as a parent. Often these responsibilities arrive at very short notice.
Whether or not you will need to move the child interstate with you is also a potential complication as you change duty stations permanently, but this can be worked into the custody agreement in many situations.
A fair playing field
Often when parents split it's the child custody negotiations that can be the worst stage. Adding an extra obligation to the military can make the process more complicated
Courts will consider your military career, but they should not use this as grounds in itself to make judgements on child custody. There is no reason that you cannot reach a desirable outcome for your child -- provided you are informed on relevant legislation, your rights and how to navigate court processes.