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Military divorce and child custody can prove to be a difficult mix

As a nation, we have nothing but gratitude and admiration for the men and women who make the selfless decision to serve in our nation's armed forces. That's because these brave people often have no choice but to leave behind their families for months or even years at a time in order to protect our country.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that these prolonged deployments can -- and do -- take a real toll on marriages, as couples must adjust to life apart and the accompanying stresses of this reality. Sadly, many military marriages do end in divorce.

What often makes these military divorces that much harder is that they often present unique and otherwise challenging issues, particularly if the couple has children. 

The unfortunate reality, say experts, is that it's often difficult for active duty military members subject to lengthy deployments to secure primary custody -- or sometimes even joint custody -- as judges in the civilian court system might not be entirely sympathetic to their plight.

According to these experts, the situation becomes all the more complex, however, when the divorce involves two active duty parents, both of whom are subject to lengthy deployments. Here, arrangements must be made to account for what happens when each parent is deployed, while the situation can become even tougher if the parents are situated across the nation.

"It can get very tricky," said one family law attorney. "The service requirement just generally imposes such hardships on these families, so it's not atypical these arrangements run into trouble."  

Compounding these potential problems even further is the fact that it might not be entirely clear as to which state can be properly classified as a child's home under the Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction Enforcement Act thanks to changing base assignments.

The good news in this regard, however, is that the Uniform Law Commission approved a model Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act back in July 2012 that should introduce some clarity going forward and which calls for the following:

  • While a parent's imminent deployment can be taken into account during custody proceedings, their past and "possible future" deployments may not be used against them.
  • Parents on deployment cannot lose permanent custody absent their consent.

To date, only two states have enacted a form of the model legislation, while five other states have introduced related measures. (Texas has done neither).

All of this serves to underscore just how important it is for those considering a military divorce to consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible to learn more about their rights and their options.

Source: KGTV, "Military divorces pose special challenges," Kristi Tousignant, Aug. 30, 2014

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