Military Deployment and Child Custody

Anyone serving in the military must make sacrifices in order to fulfill their commitment, and this is especially true for active military personnel who leave children behind when they are deployed. Dealing with separation from loved ones is a lot on its own, but it can become substantially worse if marriages breakdown while deployed and child custody issues are fought from far away. A mother and recent veteran from Florida faced a child custody nightmare when she returned home from four years in the Middle East to find her children moved to another state without permission and living in foster care. The Florida legislature and the federal government, recognizing that military personnel provide an important service to the country that necessitates laws tailored to their unique situations, have laws related to child custody issues that specifically apply to parents who are members of the active military. In order to better prepare active military parents facing child custody concerns, a review of federal and Florida law impacting child custody issues will be discussed. Having this information may ease some of the anxiety deployed parents likely feel after learning the stable family they thought was waiting at home is in question.

Florida Law for Active Military Parents

Florida has a law that specifically addresses parent time-sharing when an active military parent is deployed or activated for service away from home. The statute provides that a court may temporarily enter a new parent time-sharing order if a military assignment will substantially affect the parent’s ability to comply with the existing order, and a temporary modification is in the best interest of the child. The original parent time-sharing order is the preferred time-sharing arrangement, and it will remain in effect if at all feasible. However, if a court does issue a temporary time-sharing order, the original order will be reinstated once the military assignment ends. Courts are instructed to include provisions for communication between the military parent and child in the temporary order if communication is possible. Courts should also allow liberal visitation with the child when the military parent is on leave to foster the parent-child relationship. In addition, if the deployment or assignment of the servicemember will extend beyond 90 days, the parent may designate one or more people to carry out the time-sharing agreement on behalf of the military parent. The appointed person or persons must be a family member, stepparent or relative by marriage.

Federal Law for Active Military

A federal law, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, provides the basis for the Florida statute on military parents, and states that active service members on assignment or within 90 days of the assignment terminating can request a court to stay the enforcement of a judgment or order if the ability of the servicemember to comply is substantially affected by the demands of military service. The court can also stay the execution of the judgment or order on its own motion. Effectively, this means the non-military parent cannot petition a court to change the terms of child custody or support while the military service member is unable to fully respond due to military obligations. If the servicemember receives notice of a judgment or order and wants to stay its enforcement, he or she must submit a statement to the court explaining why military duties prevent an appearance and when the servicemember will be able to appear. Further, the commanding officer must also submit a letter explaining military duties prevent an appearance and leave will not be granted as of the date of the letter.

Seek Legal Representation

Trying to balance the demands of military service and parenting is not easy, especially if you are sharing custody with an ex-spouse. If you find yourself battling over custody issues while deployed or assigned, retaining an attorney is necessary to reduce the possibility of a disruption in your relationship with your child. Stok Kon + Braverman, in Fort Lauderdale and Boynton Beach, handle child custody matters and are available for confidential consultations. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.