Child Custody Considerations in Military Divorce

military-family-law-child-custodyDeciding whom your child will live with the majority, if not all, of the time is always a challenging one in divorce. The Tennessee courts decide child custody on the basis of whatever is in the best interests of the child. The court looks to create the kind of arrangements that will serve the child’s well-being, safety, and security.

When one divorcing parent is serving in the military it can have a significant impact on custody issues, especially if the military spouse is deployed at the time of the divorce. Deployment can pose special challenges. Most state laws do not include any special consideration with regard to military service in child custody decisions. The United States DoD has initiated a project called USA 4 Military Families that would make sure that military service members do not lose custody of their child because of their military service obligations.

Military family care plans and Tennessee permanent parenting plans

A family care plan is a collection of documents detailing who will care for your children or any other family members that may be dependent on the service member with regard to housing, food, clothing transportation, medical care, etc. when the service member is away at training or on deployments. The plan serves to facilitate a smooth transfer of those responsibilities while the military spouse is away. The plan must also include details about who will have short-term custody of the child when they leave for a no-notice deployment. Those service members who are requires to have a family care plan include:

  • Single parents
  • A member of a dual-income couple with children
  • Responsible to dependent family members
  • Married with custody of a child whose parent is not the service members spouse

Permanent parenting plans are required during a Tennessee divorce when the couple has children. A parenting plan describes how the parents will share parenting time and care for all of the child’s needs on a temporary basis while the divorce is pending and on a long term/ permanent basis after the divorce. In a situation where one of the spouses is on active duty in the military it makes sense to come up with alternate parenting plans that deal with the concerns in the family care plan.

In circumstances where the active duty service member has sole custody of the child, the court may allow the military member’s new spouse or another member of the family to have responsibility for the child while the service member is deployed depending upon the length of the expected deployment and the full circumstances to prevent the children from being moved to a new school or environment for a short term basis.  A modification of the existing parenting plan may be required for one year or longer deployments.

Military member’s rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

The SCRA protects the legal rights of military service members when they are deployed to active duty. With regard to child custody decisions, the SCRA provides an automatic stay of 90 days for court and administrative proceedings while the service member is deployed. However, if you cannot obtain a letter from your commander, the court might think you are just delaying and not honor the delay.  In any event, the proper pleading must be filed or presented to the court to put them on notice.  Do not rely on the existence of the law without filing a proper notice with the court.

At LaFevor & Slaughter in Knoxville, we help military parents protect their children while still achieving their goals. We invite you to contact us if you have questions about how your service might affect your parenting and visitation plans.

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