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When One Parent Is In The Military, Who Has Custody Of The Children?

October 30, 2023 John Engman & Associates

When One Parent Is In The Military, Who Has Custody Of The Children?

Family Care Plans and Parenting

After the divorce, all divorced parents should create a parenting plan outlining how they will split time and care for their children. It’s especially vital if you’re in the military and doesn’t know where you’ll be deployed or for how long, and it may be useful to establish alternate parenting strategies for various scenarios. If the service member is scheduled to remain at a base near the children’s home, for example, make a plan that allows for visiting during the parent’s projected free time.

Prepare a plan to implement if the service member is deployed overseas or transferred further away at the same time. Communication is crucial — service members frequently don’t know exactly what will happen, so it’s critical to relay all relevant information to the other parent and develop contingency plans that will protect your family no matter what happens.

When just one parent is in the military and the parents have joint custody, the child is usually cared for by the civilian parent, when the military parent is unavailable.

In unique cases, when a parent has sole custody, things are different.  When that parent is deployed it is very common for the courts to award temporary custody to others in the family.  This could be another family member, such as a grandparent, uncle, or aunt, to take over as the child’s guardian while the military parent is deployed.  They can even allow the person’s new spouse.

Who is required to have a family care plan in place?

When a child’s sole caregiver, or both caregivers if there are two parents, is deployed, the military has procedures in place. In certain cases, a Family Care Plan is required:

  • A military member is a single parent with shared custody with another parent with whom he or she is not currently married or with sole custody of a child under the age of 19.
  • Both parents serve in the military and have custody of children under the age of 19. (The Family Care Plan must be signed by both parents.)
  • A service member is responsible for a disabled family member or spouse that cannot care for themselves or is the sole caretaker for a child under the age of 19.

Any service member who finds themselves in one of these situations must immediately notify the military. After that, the service member has 60 days (active duty) or 90 days (reserve) to submit a formal Family Care Plan to their commanding officer. Should you have further Michigan child custody questions, reach out to 616-454-5222 today.

What Does a Family Care Plan Include?

The plan must specify what will happen to the service member’s children if he or she is deployed or must be away from home for an extended period of time (31 days or more). Specific qualifications may alter between branches of the military, but the fundamentals — as outlined above — remain the same.

Contact information for caregivers. The plan must include the name and contact information for the person who will care for the child, who must be a citizen over the age of 21, as well as a certification that the caregiver has all of the essential information and has agreed to take on the obligation. In the event that the primary caregiver is unable to provide care when the time comes, the plan must include the name of an alternate caregiver.

Because the plan must account for both short- and long-term absences, it may be necessary to choose various people for different scenarios in some cases. A short-term caregiver would most likely be a local resident who could fill in for the service member while he or she is away for a six-week training program or a brief educational program.

What happens during long deployments?

If the parent is deployed for an extended amount of time, a longer-term caregiver may reside further away yet is more appropriate. For example, a service member with primary custody of a child might appoint a close relative as a short-term caretaker but agree to send the child to live with the other parent across the nation if he or she is gone for an extended period of time.

  • If the other parent is not listed as a caregiver, formal consent is required.
  • Information about how the child will be financially supported while the service member is away. This must contain proof that the service member has given the caregiver or other responsible adult powers of attorney. (Powers of attorney are legal documents that allow someone else to handle your finances on your behalf.)
  • If the Family Care Plan is implemented, information on transporting family members will be provided. The military asks that the plan contain even the smallest details, such as how airline tickets will be bought and how the caregiver and child will arrive at the airport. If a service member is deployed with little notice, the plan must include provisions for shifting the care of a child from a short-term to a long-term caregiver.

In the event of the service member’s death, the name of the person the service member chooses to take care of the child.

In almost all circumstances, if there is another legal parent, that person will automatically take custody, but if the military parent believes that isn’t suitable — for example, if the other parent doesn’t have visitation because of abuse or has abandoned the child — you can select another person and explain why.

If you are getting a divorce and are in active military duty you need to understand your rights.  While you might be away for deployment often, you will need to have people in place to take over when you are gone. If the other parent is in the picture, then it is your duty to come up with a game plan that will best work for your family.  However, sometimes this is easier said than done.  We at John Engman & Associates take pride in helping couples navigate these hard times and help come to a solution that each of you can live with.  Call today and we would be happy to take a look at your case under no obligation, free of charge.

 Our Grand Rapids child custody and family law attorneys would be more than happy to assess the details of your case. To request a free consultation, call John Engman & Associates at (616) 454-5222.