Carlsbad, CA – Our servicemen and servicewomen should be applauded for the ways in which they sacrifice their lives for the protection of others. What happens, then, when a servicemember is deployed while a child custody dispute is ongoing?
Every year, thousands of our California citizens are deployed from various military branches to bases around the world. Deployment situations like these can be tough on the servicemembers due to culture-shock and the pain of being separated from family and friends for long periods of time. When the stresses of divorce and custody battles are added to the mix, the deployment order can seem almost insurmountable.
Military parents, then, will be pleased to hear that special Federal and California state laws provide sweeping legal protections for military servicemen and servicewomen. Furthermore, safeguards have been enacted to protect servicemembers’ parental rights while actively serving.
Military Servicemembers Who Share Custody
According to divorce attorney John Griffith of San Diego family law firm Griffith, Young, and Lass, military members who share custody of a child and who have received a notice of deployment or mobilization are urged to contact an experienced Los Angeles family law attorney to discuss their rights as active military parents.
“There are many considerations servicemembers are entitled to that can help them receive a favorable outcome not only in divorce proceedings, but also when it comes to child custody, visitation, and child support,” Griffith said.
Federal and State Protections
Griffith pointed to Federal law, which states that active duty military servicemen and servicewomen get a mandatory stay on any legal action for the first 90 days of deployment. The SCRA (Service Members Civil Relief Act) – which used to be referred to as the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act – is designed to give sweeping protections to military members, especially those who may be battling over custody.
“The stay on legal action prevents civilians from hitting military parents with unexpected custody requests on the eve of deployment. When the 90 days have passed, California family law will then take precedent when governing the rights of active military parents,” said Griffith.
Military Deployment & Custody Battles
Military parents fighting for custody (before deployment or while deployed) have provisions written for them in California family law that give them a loud voice in court. Servicemembers who have yet to be deployed, but are scheduled for deployment at some point in the future, can request that the child custody hearing be moved to an earlier date so that he or she can attend.
Servicemembers who have already been deployed, or if moving the hearing to an earlier date is impossible, the servicemember may request to attend the hearing by virtual means. Virtual methods include phone and video conferencing apps like Skype. If the judge determines that the appearance of the parent will not be unfair to the other spouse, the judge will usually grant the request. California courts will always do what is in the best interests of the children and will go to significant lengths to ensure hearings are fair and comprehensive.
Custody Rights of Military Parents
California Family Code Section 3047 lists the parental rights of parents who may be mobilized of deployed due to military service. California military parents who are deployed may not have their parental rights altered, unless there are important factors to consider, like physical or substance abuse.
Changing a Custody Ruling
Military parents who share custody of a child with another while deployed can get their custody agreements changed, but any alterations may not be permanent and may only last for the length of deployment. When the military parent’s tour of duty is over, and they have returned to California soil, the previous custody agreement will once more take effect.
Temporary changes to a child custody order may be imposed if the military member’s deployment or mobilization results in a relocation that is a significant distance from where the children reside, and if the order otherwise adversely affects the parent’s ability to maintain the agreement.
A military member may ask the court to grant visitation to a family member, such as a grandparent, aunt or step-parent, to help make the deployment situation easier on the children.
“A judge may agree to this sort of visitation agreement if it is determined that there is an existing bond between the children and the chosen family member, if the new arrangement will help to reduce the negative effects of the parent’s deployment, and if the visitation agreement is in the children’s best interests,” Griffith said.
For more information on military servicemember considerations under California family law, contact divorce attorney John Griffith of Griffith, Young & Lass or call 858-951-1526 in Carlsbad to schedule a free consultation.
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