Knowing how the court will handle current child custody arrangements is of vital importance to many service members deploying overseas on “unaccompanied tours.” These tours are deployments in which dependents are not allowed to accompany the service member. The following information will address how a parent’s deployment might affect a current child custody arrangement.
Temporary Modification to the Custody Order
If a parent receives deployment orders for an “unaccompanied tour,” the court will likely award custody of the child temporarily to the other parent. The court must be certain that its order ensures that the parent deploying can maintain continuing and frequent contact with the child during the time the temporary order is in effect. This temporary custody order is made by the court without prejudice, and will be reconsidered when the parent returns from deployment. The presumption is that custody will revert to the arrangement in place before the temporary modification unless, of course, this conflicts with the best interests of the child. It must be remembered, however, that the court only allowed a limited inquiry into the best interests of the child before reverting back to the previous custody arrangement. The military parent’s absence to fulfill their duties is not a legitimate reason to justify changing the original order.
Visitation by Deploying Parent’s Family with the Child
A parent who leaves to serve unaccompanied tours may go several months without being able to visit with his or her child. A deploying parent’s family members may, in some circumstances, be granted visitation rights allowing them to see the child while the parent is away on duty. The deploying parent may file a request before deployment asking that visitation rights be granted to a member of that parent’s family. To do this, the following requirements must be fulfilled:
- The court must determine that there is a pre-existing relationship between the child and the family member that has resulted in a bond.
- Visitation with the family member will aid in the child’s contact with the deployed parent.
- The non-deploying parent’s right to exercise parental authority is outweighed by the child’s best interest in having visitation with the family member.