Military familyThis is the next post in my series discussing issues which frequently come up during divorces involving military families. My last post explained how a military pension may be divided during Virginia’s divorce process. In this post I will explain how child custody matters are handled when one military parent is being deployed.

Military parents who are preparing for deployment have special rights and protections during the Virginia child custody process

Virginia has one of the largest military populations in the United States. That is why, in 2008, our State passed the Virginia Military Parents Equal Protection Act. The Act allows a deploying parent to request that their child custody case be made a priority on the court’s docket prior to the parent’s departure. It also allows the parent to testify in court by phone, if necessary, and excuses the parent from appearing in person if they are involved in pre-deployment training. The Act also specifies that if a military parent has custody of the child, and is deployed, then a temporary custody arrangement will be made. The court stresses the phrase “temporary,” and the non-primary caretaker will not be able to use the parent’s deployment as a reason to request primary custody. Finally, the Act allows a deployed parent to “give” any visitation that they have with their children to a family member while they are gone.

It is important for parents to know that the court will not hold their deployment against them in a child custody case. Serving in the United States military is a noble job and courts acknowledge that one does not have control over their deployment schedule. A military person’s attorney can ask the court to stay a divorce, expedite a child custody ruling, or request that the military person communicate with the court via phone whenever necessary.

Military service does not disqualify a Virginia parent from receiving primary custody

The schedule of a military member can be complicated. It is true that it may be difficult for one to be the primary custodian of a child when deployed. It is, however, not impossible. The court will take into account the circumstances of the entire family when deciding on a custody arrangement.  If the military parent is awarded primary custody then a designated party will be chosen for the child to live with if and when the parent is deployed. This is often the other parent but may also be a family member or close friend. If both parents are in the military then the Court will often assist them in negotiating a shared custody plan while designating a third party as an alternative temporary caretaker if both parents are away at the same time. During the custody hearing, a Judge will listen carefully to all of the facts of the case and make a decision based on the best interest of the child and the realities of both parents’ schedules.

If you are involved in a child custody dispute and are in the military then it is important to hire an attorney with an extensive knowledge about the reality of military parents. Contact our firm today for a consultation.