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New Law on Child Custody for Deployed Parents

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Active members of the military on deployment who share child custody often have limited availability to communicate, and logistically, are unable to be present for events and face-to-face time until the tour is over. How to deal with this situation, particularly to ensure relatives related to the deployed parent have adequate time with the child, is not always easily arranged. Obviously, special consideration needs to be given to deployed parents, and while the law presently in effect in Florida does include some limited provisions that, among other things, permit the designation of another person to exercise parenting time, and allow a court to temporarily modify parenting plans, it remains silent on many pressing issues facing deployed parents. However, a new law was just signed that establishes a more comprehensive system for settling child custody manners in deployment situations. A discussion of the main points covered in the new law, and how it will impact child custody for military parents generally, will follow below.

Arranging Custody During Deployment

Deployment, by its nature, cuts off the ability of a parent to be actively involved in his/her child’s daily life. If child custody is shared, changes in schedule and decision-making parameters will be necessary to account for deployed parent’s restricted access. The need for these changes exists whether there is a standing custody order or not, as failing to adjust expectations and obligations in light of this situation will create difficulty for the other parent, and not work in favor of the best interests of the child. Under the new law, parents are free to enter into their own temporary custodial agreements. If the parents come to a mutual signed agreement, it should address, if possible, the following issues:

  • as permitted, the destination, length, and conditions of the deployment;
  • outline caretaking authority between the parents and other agreed upon non-parents, including any decision and caretaking authority granted to the non-parent;
  • include any grant of limited contact to a non-parent;
  • specify a process to resolve disputes;
  • specify the manner and frequency of communication between the deployed parent and the child;
  • explain the access the deployed parent will have with the child during leave or when otherwise available; and
  • note that the agreement will terminate when deployment ends or as agreed to by the parents.

Caretaking Authority to Non-Parent

In addition to explaining what deployed parents should attempt to negotiate regarding child custody, the new law also delineates the operation of caretaking authority given to a non-parent. As with all things related a child’s welfare, the dispositive factor is whether the action is in the child’s best interests. Courts are permitted to enter such orders for the benefit of adult family members or unrelated individuals if there is a close and substantial relationship with the child (positive, long-term relationship with a strong emotional bond between the adult and child). Unless both parents agree, the amount of time granted to the non-parent is limited to no more than the time the deployed parent was entitled to or actually provided care to the child. Further, while the default is to keep decision-making authority with the deployed parent, it can be temporarily transferred to the non-parent if the deployed parent is unable to exercise this power, and it is in the child’s best interest. However, the authority must be narrowly tailored so that it is extended only to the extent necessary and considers the role of other parent. This authority only lasts as long as the deployed parent is unavailable, and must be shown necessary by clear and convincing evidence for non-related adults.

Contact an Orlando Child Custody Lawyer

Figuring out child custody issues will always be challenging, but is even more so for parents in the military. If you have concerns about the child custody order governing your time and authority over your child, talk to the knowledgeable attorneys at Orlando’s Donna Hung Law Group. We understand how sensitive and difficult these matters are, and will work to get you the best possible outcome. Contact us at (407) 999-0099 for a confidential consultation.

Resources:

leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0000-0099/0061/Sections/0061.13002.html

myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Documents/loaddoc.aspx?FileName=_h1217er.docx&DocumentType=Bill&BillNumber=1217&Session=2018