In our last couple posts, we spoke briefly about military family care plans and some of the issues that can come up with them. Here, we wanted to briefly mention a federal law which may provide protection to military members who face the unfortunate situation of having a spouse initiate child custody proceedings while the military spouse is deployed overseas.
Under the Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act (SCRA), judges may grant stays of custody proceedings when a soldier’s participation is materially affected by military service. The law makes stays mandatory for 90 days after deployment, provided the service member has a defense to the custody action and the defense cannot be presented without his or her presence. Stay of proceedings can also be granted if the service member cannot be reached or it cannot be determined whether the military member has any other meritorious defense against the custody action.
Having custody proceedings temporarily stayed under the SCRA can provide some degree of relief to a deployed military service member, but the relief is limited. Ultimately, courts make custody decisions not on the basis of the interests of the parent, but on those of the child. If a child’s best interests are negatively impacted by a military parent’s deployment, there is a risk of having custody modified at the request of the other parent. The SCRA can help buy a deployed parent time, though.
The best thing a military parent can do is to make prearrangements for custody in the event of deployment and work with an experienced attorney to delay custody proceedings during deployment, when possible. Having good plans in place will not always prevent loss or modification of custody, but it can help.