Figuring out a parenting plan after a divorce or separation is rarely easy. For members of our armed forces, who may face the possibility of relocation and deployment in the future, things can get even more complicated.
If you’re serving in the military and have child custody issues that still need resolution, you probably have lots of questions about what your service means for your custody case. In this article, we’ll try to answer a few of the most common questions that military servicemembers tend to ask about how their service will affect their child custody case in North Carolina.
Will My Military Status Hurt My Child Custody Case?
According to the law, military parents shouldn’t be treated any differently than civilians when it comes to child custody matters and other family law proceedings. And in fact, they have some special protections under the law; for example, the North Carolina General Statutes section 50-13.2(f) states that a military deployment can’t be used as the only basis for a child custody order.
So, when handling cases involving military parents, the court is generally supposed to consider the same factors as it does when settling child custody cases involving civilians. In theory, this means your military status shouldn’t negatively affect your child custody case.
However, some military service members still worry that a judge will view them as less suitable primary caretakers for children because the possibility of relocation and deployment always hovers over their lives. This can be a valid concern, because the court still has to consider the child’s best interests above all other factors — even the special legal protections for armed forces members — when deciding a child custody matter, and military deployments can be disruptive to a child’s life.
All of this makes it very difficult to say what will happen in any given child custody case involving a military parent. The best advice we can give you is to consult with an experienced family law attorney who knows the local courthouses and judges and who can give you legal advice based on the unique facts of your case.
What If My Ex-Spouse Tries to Change Our Custody Agreement While I’m Deployed?
One thing that military parents tend to worry about is their ex-spouse using a deployment as an opportunity to try and make a grab for custody of their children. The idea of your spouse trying to start up a custody battle while you’re away on active duty can understandably create a lot of anxiety.
Fortunately, a law called the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) creates special protections for military parents. One of these protections is an automatic stay (or freeze) on any civil legal proceedings that involve the military parent.
This means that if your ex-spouse files for custody while you’re deployed, the case will immediately get put on hold for a set amount of time (usually 90 days). You’ll get notified about the legal action, but nothing will happen with the case until that window of time expires. And in some cases, a judge may even decide to extend the stay further until your deployment ends.
It’s important to note that SCRA protections aren’t absolute, though. Your children’s best interests still take precedence, so if your spouse can convince the court that there’s an urgent and compelling reason for them to take custody, they may be able to successfully change your child custody agreement while you’re deployed.
What If I Don’t Want My Ex to Get Custody While I’m Deployed?
Many military parents worry that their ex may get full-time custody of their child while they’re away, but that doesn’t have to be the case. North Carolina law has a special statute called the “Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act” that deals with custody issues while one parent is deployed. This law basically gives you and the other parent two options: you can both agree on a temporary parenting plan while you’re deployed, or either one of you can seek a temporary court order determining child custody for the length of the deployment.
The most important thing you need to know if you’re a military parent and have an upcoming deployment is that you can work with an attorney to file a motion and request that another person of your choice receive what’s known as “custodial responsibility” while you’re deployed. The person you choose must be an adult family member; many deploying parents choose their current spouse or a grandparent.
“Custodial responsibility” means that the person you choose will basically get custody rights in your place on a temporary basis. In addition to the essential day-to-day decisions that come with acting as a caretaker for a child, the person you choose can have the power to make important decisions regarding your child’s education, extracurricular activities, health care, travel, and religious training. However, they can only get the same amount of custodial time that you had with your child prior to deployment.
Also, you should always remember that if you get notified of an upcoming deployment, North Carolina law requires you to tell the other parent about it within seven days of receiving your orders.
Myers Law Firm Can Help With Child Custody Issues for Military Parents
As we said before, general information can only take you so far when it comes to your child custody case. For help and legal advice that are based on the unique facts of your case and your military service, contact our team at Myers Law Firm today by calling 888-376-2889 or filling out the contact form on our website.
The attorneys at Myers Law Firm have experience handling all the major legal issues that tend to follow a divorce, including alimony, child custody, child support, and property division. While we excel at respectful negotiation and will work to find common ground with the other side, we’re ready to stand up in court and fight for your rights with an aggressive approach if that’s what it takes to get results.
Consideration of parent’s military service. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.2(f) (2016). Retrieved from https://www.ncleg.net/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/PDF/BySection/Chapter_50/GS_50-13.2.pdf
Uniform deployed parents custody and visitation act. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50A-3 (2016). Retrieved from https://www.ncleg.net/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/PDF/ByArticle/Chapter_50A/Article_3.pdf
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.