How Military Status Can Impact Child Custody and Parenting Time

Feature Article

How Deployments Affect Child Custody and Parenting Time

When military personnel are deployed, their family back home is left to deal with a range of challenges, including child custody and parenting time. In Arizona, family law is designed to factor in the impact of deployment on child custody decisions, ensuring that children are always protected. This article will walk you through the most important things to know when it comes to how military status and deployment affect child custody and parenting time in Arizona.

The Legal Perspective: Deployments and Child Custody

In Arizona, the rights of military personnel serving our country are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which was passed in 2003 to ensure that deployable servicemembers are not subject to undue stress and legal challenges. With regards to child custody, the Arizona Revised Statutes 25-411 states that if a military parent is ordered to deploy, then the court must ensure that the custody arrangements put in place before the deployment adequately protect the child’s best interests.

While deployments should not be the sole factor in modifying custody arrangements, they may still require temporary changes. The key is to ensure that the child’s needs are always prioritized. When a military parent is deployed, a family care plan must be put in place that provides a detailed outline of how the child will be cared for during the parent’s absence. This plan may include identifying a temporary guardian who can look after the child while the military parent is deployed.

It is worth noting that under Arizona law, even if a military parent is unable to exercise their parenting time due to deployment, the court cannot take that into account in its decision about legal decision-making or parenting time in the future. This ensures that a deployed military parent remains on equal legal footing with the other parent when it comes to child custody decisions.

Temporary Changes to Custody Arrangements During Deployment

Deployment can be a long and unpredictable process, which is why temporary changes to the custody arrangements may be necessary to ensure that the child’s needs are met. These changes may include:

  • Designating a new temporary primary caregiver while the parent is deployed
  • Establishing an order for electronic communication between the military parent and the child
  • Adjusting the parenting time schedule to acknowledge the military parent’s absence

It is recommended that when drafting a temporary custody order, the court should consider the following:

  • The parent’s job description, deployment history, and likelihood of being deployed in the future
  • The distance between the parent’s duty station and the child’s residence
  • The child’s age, needs, and temperament
  • The availability of alternative caregivers for the child
  • Any other relevant factors that might impact the child’s best interest

The Family Care Plan: A Key Part of Deployment Preparation

The family care plan is a critical component of deployment preparation for military parents. It provides detailed instructions for how to care for a child in the event that the primary parent is deployed or otherwise unavailable. When deploying, a military parent must include a family care plan in their service record. The plan must be reviewed and approved by the parent’s commanding officer, and it must contain the following information:

  • The name and contact information of the temporary caregiver(s)
  • Instructions for how to contact the deploying parent
  • A detailed schedule of the child's daily routine
  • A list of the child's medical needs
  • A list of the child’s dietary needs and preferences
  • Instructions for the child’s school and extracurricular activities
  • Any other relevant information that might impact the child’s well-being

It is essential that a family care plan is comprehensive and detailed because the temporary caregiver may be responsible for the child for an extended period, sometimes up to a year or more.

Conclusion: Protecting the Best Interest of the Child

Military service is a duty that requires bravery, dedication, and sacrifice, and it should never be an obstacle to protecting the best interests of the child. In Arizona, the laws are designed to ensure that deployment and military status do not unfairly impact child custody and parenting time. It is essential that military parents take the time to draft a detailed family care plan and work with experienced family law attorneys to ensure that their rights are protected.

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