Custody and Deployment
Being deployed or stationed somewhere that your child cannot follow is a major stressor for parents in the military. How will your child do without you? What will your life be like without them around? If you are not with your child’s other parent, you also have another concern – what will happen to your custody arrangement while you are gone? Will the other parent allow your family members to maintain their relationships with your child? In case there isn’t already a plan in place for your deployment, the courts in North Carolina have a process to help you get any custody issues settled before you leave.
In North Carolina, custody when one parent is deploying is covered under the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act (§ 50A Article 3). Under this Act, the court can quickly determine custody for the time you will be deployed.
After contacting a family law attorney, the next step is to notify your children’s other parent about your deployment within seven days of getting your notice. You also need to include a plan for fulfilling your “share of custodial responsibilities” during your deployment. This will include information about visitation if it’s possible, any changes to child support, and alternative care arrangements for your children if needed. If you are both able to come to an agreement on a plan, then you can present it to the court to have it entered as a Temporary Custody Order lasting the duration of your deployment.
If you are unable to come to an agreement, you can file a motion for a Temporary Custody Order based on your pending deployment. If you file the motion prior to leaving, the court will do their best to provide you with an expedited hearing prior to your deployment to settle the issues, instead of having to go through mediation and wait months for a court date. A Temporary Custody Order entered at this hearing can include visitation, caretaking authority, or decision-making authority for non-parents, for instance grandparents, aunts, or uncles who you want to act in your stead while you are deployed. Any rights granted to non-parents can only last until your return from deployment unless the other parent agrees. The temporary order may also include a temporary child support order based on where your children are residing while you are gone.
A deployment-based Temporary Custody Order can only last for a certain period of time. It is important to clarify the end date of your Order. The Order may include a specific end date, but if no end date is included, the Order will automatically end 60 days after your deployment ends. This means that without an end date in your order, you may have to either wait an extra 60 days to have your child back in your home or go back to the court to request visitation during those 60 days.
Planning in advance is always better, but if you aren’t able to, the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act provides a way to clarify your rights before you have to leave on your deployment – as long as you act as soon as you get your deployment notice. Thank you for your service!