I come from a family of men and women who have dedicated their lives to the service of this country in our Armed Forces, including my father, brothers, grandfather and cousins.
My father retired from the Navy in 2005 after nearly 25 years of service. Although he spent months at a time away from the family while he was deployed, I still have memories of him helping me with my homework, cooking breakfast on Saturday mornings, and meeting my teachers for parent-teacher conferences. But the fact remains that my (working) mother was the primary caregiver for me and my siblings. Which begs the question: Are military service members, by virtue of their service, at a disadvantage when it comes to child custody?
The answer is not a simple one, and begs a few other questions.
Can A Deployed Parent Be Subjected to a Custody Action?
First, can a parent who is deployed to a foreign country be subjected to a custody action? Although the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) allows members of our armed forces to delay various civil proceedings initiated against them while they are deployed, some states disregard SCRA in the child custody context because they believe that the best interests of the child outweigh any federal protections granted to the child’s servicemember parent. Other states have passed laws intended to bolster SCRA protections for military service members who are involved in child custody disputes.
Is It Difficult For Armed Forces Personnel to Retain Custody of Their Children?
Second, is it difficult for members of the armed forces to retain custody of their children? Again, the answer is not simple. Courts make child custody determinations based upon the best interests of the child. There are several factors that help the court determine what is, in fact in the best interest of the child.
What Are the Armed Forces Child Custody Laws in Utah
In Utah, the weightiest factor is which party has been the child’s primary caregiver. However, determining even this factor can be fairly complex when the military party is primarily responsible for the child’s care when they are not deployed. The complexity of determining who the child’s primary caregiver is when military servicemembers are involved sometimes leads to results that seem unfair or punitive towards the servicemember.
Due to the special circumstances of military service, it is imperative for members of the military who are involved in custody disputes or believe that they may end up in a custody dispute to seek legal counsel from an attorney who is experienced in handling custody cases for military personnel. Additionally, most branches of the military offer pre-deployment planning services for military parents.
photo courtesy U.S. Army