New Law Addresses Child Custody in Military Divorce
Trying to balance shared child custody with the responsibilities of being an active member of the military is challenging to say the least. Even when not formally deployed on an assignment, the expectations and schedules a military parent must keep can sometimes affect his/her ability to exercise parenting time. However, when deployment does occur, the parent will be wholly unable to see the child or consistently communicate for over a year in some cases. In these situations, alternative child custody arrangements are often necessary to protect the child’s best interests and preserve the deployed parent’s right to decide how the child is cared for and which family members have access to him/her. Currently, Florida law has a provision that allows courts to issue temporary modifications to standing custody orders when a parent is deployed, if it is in the best interests of the child and the military parent’s ability to exercise parenting will be materially affected. However, it does not address all the custody issues facing military parents. But, a new law recently signed by the governor, and set to become effective on July 1, does attempt to provide a more comprehensive approach to managing child custody issues during the military parent’s absence. A discussion of the key aspects of the new law, and how it may better address the needs of military parents being deployed, will follow below.
Delegating Decision-making and Childcare
One of the main concerns deployed parents have is the limited communication opportunities they have to interact with their child, and how best to replace their contribution to the child’s daily upbringing. One option to fill this gap is to designate a custodian, a family member or adult with close connections to the child, to temporarily fulfill these duties while the deployed parent is gone. The law currently in effect does include some ability to designate a family to exercise parenting time while the military parent is deployed, but it is limited in scope and does not address all the issues deployed parents may have. The law set to go into effect this summer, however, is more expansive and specifically authorizes the parents to form their own custodial responsibility agreements, or permits one parent to file a petition requesting a court to issue such an order if the parents conflict over this matter. A court will grant a petition temporarily transferring custodial responsibility to an adult family member or non-relative with a close and substantial relationship with the child if it is in the child’s best interests. For non-relative adults, a higher standard of proof for the necessity of the appointment is required to receive approval. Further, if the parents do not agree on this issue, the amount of time granted to the non-parent is limited to:
- the amount of time the deployed parent has under the permanent custody order, plus necessary travel time; or
- if a permanent order does not exist, the amount of time the deployed parent routinely cares for the child.
Terminating or Modifying Custodial Agreements or Orders
As noted above, custodial responsibility agreements or court orders are temporary in nature, and thus, will terminate or expire, at the latest, after the deployed parent returns. The agreement may be terminated before the military parent returns if the parents agree, or the court orders it based on the best interests of the child. If the custodial agreement is terminated before the deployed parent returns, both parents can execute a new agreement that names an alternate caretaker. Additionally, any modification of the custodial agreement, which may be requested by either parent or the adult caretaker, is also temporary, and ends when the deployed parent returns.
Talk to a Florida Family Law Attorney
If you are a military parent with child custody issues, you need the services of a law firm experienced with the legal and practical issues present in these situations. The attorneys at the All Family Law Group, P.A. have years of experience handling military divorces, and will use this knowledge to get you the best possible outcome. Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay for a consultation at no charge. They can be reached at 813-672-1900.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+