Military child custody arrangements and parenting plans require special flexibility when one or both parents are servicemembers. Deployments can be unpredictable and sometimes involve short notice. Families are called on to make difficult adjustments. No parent should have to worry that serving the country carries a risk of losing custody or parenting time. For this reason, many states, including New Jersey, have passed laws addressing the unique circumstances around military divorce or custody that tend to impact families with active servicemembers.
The court with original jurisdiction over your child custody matter typically will retain jurisdiction for purposes of later modifications in most cases, so where you pursue your custody order is often a key concern for military families.
Jurisdiction can be particularly challenging if a child has been residing overseas for more than six months with a military parent. Even if the child is a United States citizen, jurisdiction may still belong to the foreign country, and parents will have to either enter into an out-of-court parenting agreement (negotiated through mediation or other applicable process) — or they will need to apply to the foreign court for a custody order. This is a complicated matter requiring the assistance of an experienced attorney.
New Jersey law specifically provides that even if a child will be living out of the state under a temporary modification order, New Jersey will retain home state jurisdiction over the child.
Parenting Time Plans & Deployment
Many states, including New Jersey, have passed laws addressing the special need for flexibility in child custody arrangements and parenting plans when one or both parents are in the service. Deployments can be unpredictable, sometimes involve short notice, and often require all members of a family to make difficult adjustments. Military parents have had to face special concerns regarding loss of custody or parenting time during deployment, especially deployment overseas.
New Jersey’s Special Protections for Active Duty Parents: In New Jersey, a law that took effect in 2013 (P.L.2013, c.7, SB 1051) essentially prevents courts from making final child custody decisions when a parent deployed for 30 or more days due to active military duty or extended service-related treatment. Courts must wait until at least 90 days after a deployment ends before entering final child custody orders in a case or making final changes to any custody and parenting time orders already in existence. In addition, a non-deployed parent cannot base a request for a change in custody or parenting time solely on a deployed parent’s absence due to military service.
Deployed Parents & Primary Custody: If one parent is deployed overseas, this does not automatically mean that children will have to stay in the United States with the other parent. The courts may find that it is in the best interests of a child to accompany the deployed parent. This decision will depend on an analysis of all relevant circumstances, including whether or not the deployed parent has been the primary caretaker, what kind of arrangements the child’s other parent or an alternate caretaker could provide, and the conditions the child would encounter in the country of deployment. While safety is certainly a concern in some locations, most military bases overseas have their own daycare facilities, and there may be unique opportunities for enrichment when children are permitted to accompany a parent overseas.
Parenting Time Contact During Leave: In situations where children will not accompany the deployed parent, New Jersey’s new law protects the relationships between children and deployed parents by providing that any temporary modifications to parenting plans during deployment must allow a deployed parent to exercise custody or parenting time during periods of leave. These temporary orders typically expire automatically when the deployed parent returns. At that point the original orders will go back into effect unless the non-deployed parent can demonstrate that this is against the child’s best interests.
Delegating Parenting Time to a Step-Parent or Grandparent: Another important feature of the New Jersey law is that it allows a deployed parent, in an appropriate case, to delegate parenting time during deployment to any person who has a close personal relationship with both the parent and the child. This is often in the child’s best interests. For example, if a child ordinarily lives with the deployed parent and a step-parent or a grandparent, the step-parent or grandparent may be able to continuing providing care for the child in the same home during the deployment, preventing the necessity of the child moving to the home of the non-custodial parent, which, depending on the circumstances, might prove more disruptive for the child.
MILITARY PARENTS in New Jersey Rights and Responsibilities
Expedited or Electronic Hearings
New Jersey’s current law also allows parents who are facing an imminent deployment that would prevent them from appearing personally or fully participating in an initial child custody or parenting time hearing or evaluation to request an expedited hearing date before the deployment without waiving their right under the SCRA to request a delay or stay of proceedings during the deployment.
Servicemembers involved in New Jersey child custody and parenting matters are expressly allowed to present testimony and evidence by electronic means such as telephone or Internet conference.
Your Children & Your Peace of Mind
Your children are precious to you and you need to know that your relationships with your kids will be protected. If you are a servicemember or are co-parenting with a military servicemember, you deserve a custody arrangement and parenting time plan that secures your family’s future. For compassionate guidance and answers to your military parent custody questions, please contact us to request an initial consultation with one of our experienced family law attorneys. Take the first step towards safeguarding your children. Call today: (888) 888-0919.