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Co-parenting after a divorce or separation can be a difficult adjustment for anyone. If you or your co-parent are a military service member, co-parenting and child custody issues can be even more complicated because of the uncertainty of overseas deployments or stateside relocations/reassignments. Below, we will outline important child custody considerations for divorcing or separating military spouses.

Parenting Plans & Family Care Plans

Every parent involved in a child custody case will need to submit a parenting plan or custody arrangement. Under Pennsylvania law (Consolidated Statute § 5331), a parenting plan should include details concerning:

  • When and where pick-ups/custody exchanges will occur
  • How decisions concerning the child’s religious upbringing will occur (and who gets to make those decisions—one parent or both)
  • How holidays and school breaks will be managed
  • Any other matters deemed relevant by the court and that are in support of the child’s best interest

Service members may consider developing multiple versions of their parenting plan that can account for what should happen and who will provide care for their child’s medical, financial, and logistical needs if the military service member is deployed or called away for military duty.

A family care plan outlines what actions should be taken if a service member is deployed or must be absent for a period of 31 days or more. Depending on what branch of the military you are in, the requirements concerning what should be in the plan may vary. Generally, a family care plan should be given to a service member’s commanding officer and should include information:

  • About their child’s caregiver.
  • About their child’s other parent (if they are not their caregiver).
  • About how their child is being supported during the service member’s absence.
  • About how family members and/or their child will be transported if the family care plan must go into effect
  • About the service member’s wishes concerning custody in the event of their death

Every service member with children should have a family care plan. However, a Family Care Plan is required if:

  • A service member is a single parent and has custody of a minor child.
  • A service member is the sole caretaker of an adult or minor who is unable to care for themselves.
  • A service member shares custody of a child with another person but is not married to that person.
  • Both parents are service members and share custody of any minors.

Deployments & Custody Modifications

If a service member is deployed, they may worry about what can happen with their custodial arrangement. Here are answers to common questions service members ask concerning deployment and custody.

  • What happens if my co-parent files to modify our custody orders while I am deployed and can’t appear in court? You may be worried that the court will make a determination in your absence, and in normal circumstances, they would. However, failure to appear because of a deployment or active duty does not allow the court to move forward without you.
  • Will my deployment affect my custody case? In a child custody case or request for modification, your deployment does not affect your fitness, and a judge cannot and should not consider your absence for military duty as a factor for the childcare arrangement or the child’s best interest.
  • If I move away because of military duty, can I give my custodial rights to a family member? If certain criteria are met, yes, a parent can request that temporary orders—that give their custody rights to a family member—be issued by the court; they can ask that another person be temporarily given their joint or shared physical or legal custody rights. If you wish to take this action, you and the family member who will temporarily receive rights must petition the court together, and the petition should include a proposed custody schedule (that doesn’t exceed the scope of your current custodial rights) and a proposed schedule for child care (see Pennsylvania Consolidated Statute § 4109 (a.1) and § 5323(a)).
  • Will my original custody order be reinstated once I return from deployment? Under P.A. Consolidated Statutes § 4109 (b), if temporary custody orders were issued during your military duty or deployment, the court will reinstate the original order upon your return.

With over 20 years of experience helping clients obtain civilian and military no-fault divorces, Cairns Law Offices can help you navigate your military divorce and child custody issues. Contact us online or via phone (888) 863-9115 to learn more about our services. Se habla español.

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