Parenting time can be a challenge for active-duty military parents. Even once you find a schedule that works, deployment orders can change everything in an instant. What can you do when that happens? Do you have any options for exercising your parental responsibilities while you are deployed?
In this blog post I will discuss how active-duty military parents can exercise parenting time while serving their country. I will explain how technology has made it easier to maintain the parent-child relationship over long distances, and will discuss options for making up time lost while you were deployed.
The Practical Side of Parenting Time During Deployment
Before deciding on a legal process to protect your parental responsibilities, you need to consider what parenting time will look like while you are deployed. Colorado law says that a parent’s past deployment or possible future deployment cannot, by itself, be the basis for a decision allocating parental responsibility. The law also assumes that it is best for your child to maintain a strong relationship with you, though what that looks like may depend on your assignment.
Practically speaking, it can be hard — sometimes impossible — for an active-duty military parent to exercise the full range of parental responsibilities while in service to his or her country. Advancements in technology has made it easier for deployed servicemembers to stay in contact with family and loved ones. But the distance will still make it hard to be involved in the day-to-day decision making. Many active-duty military parents choose some combination of parenting time options depending on where they are deployed and the practical considerations of contact with their children:
• Regular telephone, Facetime, Skype, or other electronic contact
• Giving children access to messenger apps or email to give and receive communication with active-duty parents
• Exercising in-person visitation during military leave
• Assigning visitation to a grandparent or other family member
• Signing a Power of Attorney to allow that family member to make decisions for the child in the parent’s absence
Create an Agreement for Custodial Responsibility During Deployment
The law also allows parents to enter into a temporary (interim) agreement adjusting custodial responsibilities during deployment. This allows active-duty military parents to delegate their custodial responsibilities to a family member or loved one while they are away. To do so the agreement must:
• Be in writing
• Be signed by both parents and any non-parents receiving custodial responsibilities
• Describe the destination, duration, and conditions of deployment to the best of your abilities
• Specify how care-taking authority will be allocated between parents and non-parent custodians during the deployment
• Include any limits on non-parent contact agreed to by both parents
• Include a process to resolve any disputes between parents and non-parent custodians
• Specify how, and how frequently, the active-duty military parent will have contact with the child (even electronically), and explain the other parent’s role in making that happen
• Describe any visitation during the active-duty military parent’s leave (if any)
This agreement won’t adjust a party’s child support obligations, but it is designed to end when the active-duty military parent returns from deployment.
Ask the Court to Grant Parental Responsibilities to a Non-Parent
If you and your child’s other parent can’t agree on how custodial responsibility will be handled while you are deployed, you can also file a motion with the court to grant your parental responsibilities to a non-parent adult family member, or a person the child has a “close and substantial relationship” with. Many servicemembers use this provision to hand over their visitation and other parental responsibilities to the child’s grandparent or other close family member. Then, even if the other parent isn’t cooperating, the non-parent custodian can be sure you have regular contact with your children while you are away serving your country.
You may not get much warning when you are deployed. Colorado law allows you to get an expedited hearing so you can appear in court before you ship out. If the hearing still comes too late, you can also testify and present evidence electronically unless the court determines you need to be physically present.
Any order or agreement granting parental responsibilities to a non-parent because of deployment will be temporary unless you consent to a permanent change of custody. Colorado law says that when you return from service, you can restore your parental responsibilities — including your right to parenting time — by either:
• Putting an end date in the original agreement
• Having both parents sign a termination agreement
• Giving notice that you have returned from deployment (termination happens automatically 35 days after the notice is sent)
Pause Any Custody Proceedings While You are Deployed
Sometimes, you aren’t the one taking the matter to court. Your child’s other parent could file a motion to change an existing custody order or allocation of parental responsibilities while you are away, possibly because you are not available to exercise visitation. Under the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, you can ask the court to “stay” any court proceedings if your active duty makes it hard for you to attend court or participate in your case. That stay will last for 90 days, or longer if the judge agrees you are still not available for court.
Deployment can put a significant hurdle between active-duty military parents and their children. By being proactive and working with your child’s other parents, and the court, you can protect your parental responsibility rights and make deployment easier for everyone in the family.
At Aviso Law, LLC, our divorce lawyers are veterans themselves. We know the issues facing active-duty military parents, and make it a point to help you understand your parenting time options when you are deployed. We are here to serve you and your family during deployment, and upon your return. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.