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Military parents … worried about losing custody of your kids if you get deployed or relocated?

Following a divorce or legal separation, custodial arrangements for children can be a challenging matter to address.

Who becomes the custodial parent?

How does deployment, relocation, and a military schedule affect parenting schedule for custodial and noncustodial parents?

Under the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act (UDPCVA), parents no longer have to worry about losing custody due to deployment, relocation, or unaccompanied tours.

However, that means creating a custody arrangement, also known as a parenting plan, that meets the needs of the children as well as both parents.

What is a parenting plan?

A parenting plan is a method by which divorcing parents who share custody of their kids can support their children’s development. It is unlike a custody agreement whereby one parent may have sole or primary custody of the children. A parenting plan (a detailed conversion of visitation rights) ensures that parents who wish to share joint custody of their kids will explicitly define for the courts how they intend to co-parent the children.

Parents and courts develop a parenting plan that outlines when a child will spend time with a parent, where the child will live, resolving disputes, and the sharing of parental responsibility, including making major decisions about the child.

A parenting plan is required to:

· Protect the best interests of the child on divorce or legal separation of the parents

· Designate the responsibilities of each parent in terms of the child’s residence, health care, education, etc.

· Provide for the emotional and physical wellbeing of the child

· Provide for the changing needs of the child as he or she grows and matures

· Minimize exposure to parental conflict

· Encourage conflict resolution between the parents outside of the judicial system (for example, mediation)

A standard parenting plan typically includes rules/agreements that cover all aspects of co-parenting. For example, in Washington, the courts have a standard Family 140 Parenting Plan, which sets out the conditions for co-parenting. It often governs the following:

1. Child’s residence

2. Parenting time

3. Financial obligations

4. Medical insurance and associated expenses

5. Transportation arrangements between homes

6. Communication and exchange of information

7. Decision-making process

8. Child-care (provider, costs)

9. Changing needs as the child grows

10. Parenting styles

11. Consistency across homes (rules and discipline)

12. Extended family relationships

13. New relationships/partners

14. Relocating or moving with the children

15. Dispute resolution

16. Schedule (school, vacations, public holidays)

So, as parents, if you agree on a parenting plan, you can submit it to the relevant court for approval. If you do not agree, then the matter goes to trial, and the judge can decide on the plan.

The parenting plan will be ratified and made an order of the court. As a binding court order, that means, if you or the other parent fails to adhere to the parenting plan, you can be subject to civil or criminal penalties, or both.

As you can see, developing a parenting plan can be a complicated process, and it comes with serious legal ramifications. Because of the complex nature of developing a detailed parenting plan, it’s important to seek mediation or, better yet, legal support. That’s why we always recommend that divorcing or separating parents seek legal counsel to develop a parenting plan that puts the kid interest first and protects their interest as a parent. When you do, this allows you to create a plan that supports all parties involved.

What is a ‘military parenting plan’?

Parenting plans get a little more complex when the one or both divorcing or separating parent is in the military.

A military parenting plan is a parenting agreement made between divorcing parents where one or both parents are serving in the military. Because of the unique circumstances of being in the military and deployment, the parenting plan must account for these situations.

This inevitably requires the development of a long distance parenting plan. It incorporates the details of a standard parenting plan with provisions for long-distance situations due to deployment or spouses relocating due to their work.

Developing a long distance parenting plan

Washington courts will adopt a long-distance parenting plan when the parents live long distances apart from each other – for example, different states, countries, or because a parent has been deployed or relocated as in the military.

Due to the distance, this will make weekly exchanges impractical. For typical long-distance parental agreements, the non-custodial parent generally has parental time blocks for holidays (summer and winter breaks). This may not work for military personnel whose deployment and time would not be consistent with these general holidays.

As such, a long distance plan that is tailored to the unique needs of a military family is best. This ensures that the service parent is able to make up parenting time with the child.

For example, a long-distance parenting plan for a military parent would include provisions for liberal contact between the deploying parent and the child/children during mid-tour leave.

With deployment in the mix, the parents need to determine a parenting proposal as soon as possible. This may take the form of a hearing or mutual agreement.

Washington State Legislature provisions for “Modification of parenting plan or custody decree” allows for temporary adjustment of the parenting plan if a “parent receives military temporary duty, deployment, activation, or mobilization orders that involve moving a substantial distance away from the military parent's residence…”

So, as a military parent, once you follow the correct procedures in developing your parenting plans and notification process for deployment and relocation, you can protect your status as a full co-parent to your kids.

And this brings us to creating the plan and …

Why work with a military attorney for parenting plans?

When developing a military visitation schedule, it’s important to remember that the idea is to support the children as best as possible. You should work with a compassionate attorney who understands the need to always protect your child’s best interest.

The plan must also not leave any room for interpretation. Therefore, a lawyer can ensure that the plan uses airtight language.

You can work with a military attorney to create a military parenting plan that takes into account deployment and long distance parenting and meets the requirements of the court.

At Van Ackeren Law, we take a family-first approach when representing divorcing military parents. Let’s discuss how best to protect your kids so both you and your children can continue developing the best relationship possible.

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