Sign for a Legal Assistance Office on a military installation

Be Proactive with Child Custody

If you’re a military parent who has custody or visitation rights for your children, military service can disrupt those arrangements. But you do have rights. While every parent should have a plan, the default is the other parent in the home. Having such a plan, however, is vital for parents in certain circumstances, such as single parents with custody and dual-military couples with children.

Understanding Custody Rights

“Be prepared”— those are words to live by in the military. It’s also a good rule to carry over into your personal life. Having to deploy or relocate can affect your custody or visitation arrangements.

Being prepared for disruptions can help you protect your rights — whether you have visitation rights with your children or you have custody of your children and need to designate and prepare a caregiver.

The first thing to know is that each state has its own custody laws, and each has at least one meaningful provision that protects the rights of service members in custody cases.

For help in making your plan, reach out to a military legal assistance lawyer for legal advice. Call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 for help on custody issues or contact your branch’s legal assistance office within the continental United States.

Altering your custody agreement 

If your custody agreement doesn’t reference military relocation, you can work with the court and your child’s other parent to modify the order. Understand you’ll need to give a compelling reason for moving the child . You also might have to prove the move would benefit the child. Sometimes frequent moves or deployments require service members to give up custody temporarily. Contact a military legal assistance attorney to find the processes and protections available to your particular case.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protects your legal rights when you are called to or serving on active duty. Under the A ct, individuals can obtain a stay or postponement of court or administrative proceedings (but not criminal proceedings), if military service materially interferes with your ability to appear in court. Seek military legal assistance attorney advice on next steps.

If the other parent attempts to change the child custody status while you are deployed, you can invoke your rights under the Act to postpone the hearing.

Military life often involves deployment or relocation, but you have multiple resources — often free — to minimize the impact on your children. Reach out for legal help, develop a family care plan and prepare ahead for your newest transition. If you need the assistance of an attorney who knows the ins and outs of military family child custody issues, contact your military legal assistance office or Military OneSource online or call 800-342-9647.