Sharing parenting duties is challenging for every divorced couple, but it can be even more complicated when one or both parents serve in the military.
Parenting time is often affected by uncertainty over future deployments overseas or stateside. However, Washington protects military members from losing their parental rights when deployed.
How are deployed parents protected?
Over a decade ago, nonmilitary parents could use their former partner’s military duty against them when filing a Petition to Change Parenting Plan. A frequent claim said deployments prevented military members from meeting their parental responsibilities. The state adopted new laws in 2009 that offer several protections, including:
- Courts cannot consider deployments as a reason to alter parenting plans.
- When deployed, a primary residential parent can temporarily relinquish custody to the other parent but must regain custody within 10 days of their return without a hearing.
- Military members have the right to an expedited court hearing when a sudden deployment or reassignment occurs and can testify via phone, internet or video conference if the new order affects their ability to show up in person.
- Deployed military members can delegate their parenting time to someone of their choosing – usually a close relative – during their absence.
Military procedure for deployed parents
In addition to state laws, the military has its own rules – known as a family care plan – for custody situations when one or both parents are deployed. These plans are required when:
- A service member is the primary residential parent for a child under 19 or shares custody with the other parent to whom they are not currently married.
- Both parents are in the service and share custody of a child under 19.
- A service member is the sole caretaker for a child under 19 or an adult family member who cannot care for themselves.
The family care plan details what happens to children or others under their care during short-term and long-term deployments. They must include personal information about their designated caregivers, the other parent and many other details. Requirements for family care plans differ for each military branch.
Draft a flexible parenting plan
Divorce and co-parenting are stressful enough on their own, but military service can result in additional anxiety. That’s why it’s advisable to consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney who understands state laws and military rules over custody.
Your lawyer can help you craft a parenting plan that can help you avoid conflict when an unexpected deployment occurs or represent you in court when necessary to protect your parental rights.