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Does Your Military Status Affect Child Custody and Parenting Time

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As a military service member, you might have concerns about how relocation or deployment could affect child custody or parenting time. These situations, common in military life, bring unique challenges in family law matters.

When a military parent is away due to service, or if there’s a need to create a family care plan, it can significantly impact child custody arrangements and the legal decision-making process.

For families in this situation, our firm offers guidance and support. At Colburn Hintze Maletta have experience in military custody and divorce cases, especially in addressing the specific concerns that arise due to military service. 

Contact us today for a free initial consultation to discuss your case and determine the best course of action.


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Military Status and Child Custody

What is a Family Care Plan 

In Arizona, a Family Care Plan for military parents is acknowledged in the Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS) 25-411; the court is required to consider the terms of a military parent’s Family Care Plan when determining what is in the child’s best interest during the parent’s military deployment. 

The Family Care Plan details arrangements for the care of children during deployment, including aspects like temporary guardianship, financial support, and emergency contacts.

It is a testament to how the military parent intends to fulfill their parenting obligations despite being deployed.

By mandating the consideration of the Family Care Plan, ARS 25-411 ensures that the unique circumstances of military service are factored into custody decisions. This approach helps the court make informed decisions that protect the child’s stability and well-being while respecting the military parent’s wishes during periods of deployment or relocation.


military women doing child support calculations

Impact of Military Service on Child Support Calculations

Military service can impact child support calculations. Understanding how a service member’s income and benefits are considered in these calculations is important for both military parents and their former partners.

  1. Income Consideration: A service member’s total income, which includes their base pay, Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), and other special pays, is factored into child support calculations.
  2. Deployment and Child Support Payments: When a service member is deployed, their income may increase due to additional allowances. However, the increase in income due to deployment does not automatically lead to an increase in child support payments. The court considers the overall situation and the needs of the child.
  3. Post-Service Income Changes: When a service member leaves the military, their income may decrease, potentially warranting a modification of child support obligations. This change must be legally addressed through the court to adjust the child support order accordingly.

In summary, the impact of military service on child support calculations involves carefully considering the service member’s total income, including base pay and various allowances.

Due to the fluctuating nature of military income and benefits, these calculations can differ over time and require periodic adjustments to reflect current financial circumstances accurately.

Deployment and Temporary Child Custody Modifications 

Under Arizona Revised Statutes, particularly ARS 25-411, the impact of deployment is carefully considered in custody decisions. When a military parent is deployed, the court must assess how this change in circumstances affects the child’s best interests.

During deployment, temporary modifications to custody arrangements are often necessary.

The law acknowledges that while a parent’s absence due to deployment should not be the sole factor in modifying custody, it does require adjustments to ensure the child’s needs are continuously met.

These temporary changes are designed with the understanding that the parent’s military service is a duty that, by its nature, can lead to unpredictable and substantial changes in their ability to provide regular care.

The court also considers the military parent’s Family Care Plan, as this plan provides a detailed outline of how the child will be cared for in the parent’s absence.

Arizona statutes require that any temporary custody modifications due to deployment include a specific transition plan to revert to the pre-deployment custody arrangement within ten days after the deployment ends.

This stipulation provides the child a sense of continuity and stability, allowing them to return to their regular routine as seamlessly as possible after the parent’s deployment.

military relocation affecting child custody and parenting time for father

How Does Relocation Affect a Child Custody Agreement 

Arizona Revised Statutes 25-408 explains how relocations are addressed in the context of child custody.

When a military or civilian parent plans to relocate a substantial distance away, this can necessitate modifications to existing child custody agreements.

The statutes require that the relocating parent provide the other parent with written notice of the intended move. This triggers a legal process where the non-relocating parent has the opportunity to petition the court against the relocation.

The court’s primary focus in these situations is the best interests of the child. It considers various factors, including the reasons for the relocation, the impact on the child’s emotional and physical well-being, and the feasibility of maintaining a meaningful relationship with the non-relocating parent.

The goal is to ensure that any modifications to the custody agreement support the child’s stability and ongoing relationship with both parents.

What is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act? 

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)  specifically addresses issues related to custody orders during deployment.

According to the Act:

  1. Duration of Temporary Custody Orders: If a court issues a temporary custody order due to the deployment or anticipated deployment of a servicemember, this order is required to expire no later than the period justified by the servicemember’s deployment. This provision ensures that changes in custody due to deployment are recognized as temporary and directly tied to the duration of the deployment.
  2. Limitation on Consideration of Deployment: The SCRA states that a servicemember’s absence due to deployment, or the potential for deployment, cannot be the sole factor in determining the best interest of the child in permanent custody modifications. This protection is significant, as it prevents military service from being used against servicemembers in making long-term custody decisions.
  3. State Law Precedence in Providing Higher Protection: The SCRA also acknowledges the role of state law in these matters. If state law provides a higher standard of protection for the rights of deploying servicemembers than the SCRA, then the higher state standard applies. In Arizona, for instance, state statutes like ARS 25-411 ensure that a parent’s military deployment is carefully considered in custody decisions, aligning with the SCRA’s principles.
  4. Definition of Deployment: The SCRA defines deployment as the movement or mobilization of a servicemember to a location for more than 60 days but less than 540 days, under orders that are either unaccompanied, do not authorize dependent travel, or otherwise prohibit family member movement.

These laws ensure that your military service, particularly deployment, is not used unfairly against you in custody proceedings and that any temporary custody modifications due to deployment are just that – temporary.

military court proceeding with judge

Do Judges Consider My Service Member Status in Custody Orders 

In Arizona, judges do take into account a parent’s status as a service member in custody orders, but this is carefully balanced with the child’s best interests.

Here are some example scenarios to illustrate how this works:

  • Scenario 1: Deployment Orders: Suppose a service member, Sergeant Smith, receives deployment orders. Smith is currently sharing custody with his ex-spouse. In this case, the judge won’t automatically change the permanent custody arrangement due to his deployment. Instead, the court might issue a temporary order that adjusts custody for the duration of Smith’s deployment, ensuring his child’s life remains stable during his absence.
  • Scenario 2: Permanent Relocation: Consider another service member, Lieutenant Jones, who gets orders for a permanent change of station. Jones wishes to move with her child. The judge will consider this relocation, but not as the sole factor in modifying custody. The court will evaluate the child’s best interests, including their need for stability, education, and maintaining a relationship with the other parent.
  • Scenario 3: Post-Deployment Reintegration: After returning from deployment, Captain Brown wants to revert to the original custody arrangement. The court typically facilitates this transition back to the pre-deployment order, within ten days, to re-establish the parent-child bond and routine.

In each scenario, the judge’s decision revolves around the child’s needs and well-being, with the service member’s status being an important but not exclusive factor.

The goal is to ensure that custody arrangements accommodate the unique demands of military life without compromising the child’s stability and emotional health.

Co-Parenting Strategies for Military Families

Co-parenting in military families comes with unique challenges due to deployments, relocations, and the general demands of military life. Here are some strategies that have proven useful for military members and their families in maintaining a healthy co-parenting relationship:

  1. Effective Communication: Regular, clear communication is key. Tools like email, messaging apps, and video calls can help maintain a consistent line of dialogue about the child’s needs and activities. For example, a deployed parent can stay involved in their child’s life by scheduling regular video calls or exchanging emails or messages about their child’s day-to-day experiences.
  2. Flexible Parenting Plans: Given the unpredictability of military life, it’s beneficial to have a parenting plan that allows for flexibility. For instance, if a parent gets deployed unexpectedly, having a plan that accommodates such changes, like adjusting visitation schedules, can be invaluable.
  3. Utilizing Support Networks: Military families often have access to supportive communities and resources. Sharing parenting responsibilities with trusted family members or friends during deployments can provide stability for the child. For example, involving grandparents or close relatives in regular activities can help maintain a sense of normalcy for the child.
  4. Advance Planning for Deployments: Before deployment, it’s helpful to have detailed discussions and plans regarding the child’s care. This can include setting up schedules for communication, establishing routines, and agreeing on parenting decisions in advance.
  5. Consistent Parenting Rules and Expectations: Maintaining consistency in parenting styles and expectations across households helps provide a stable environment for the child. This could mean aligning on basic rules, discipline methods, and educational expectations.
  6. Involving Children in Planning: Depending on their age, involving children in the planning process can help them feel more secure and understood. This might include discussing visitation schedules or ways they would like to keep in touch with the deployed parent.
  7. Emotional Support for Children: Recognizing and addressing the emotional needs of children with parents in the military is important. This could involve setting up counseling or support groups for children who may struggle with the challenges of having a parent who is deployed.

These strategies require cooperation, understanding, and a commitment to the child.

Successful co-parenting in military families often hinges on the ability to adapt to changing circumstances while providing continuous care and support for the child.

How a Family Law Attorney Can Help

At Colburn Hintze Maletta, we understand that deployment and frequent relocations, inherent to military life, can pose significant challenges to custody arrangements. Our team can assist military parents in drafting temporary custody modifications during deployment, ensuring the child’s welfare while respecting the parent’s service commitments. Post-deployment, we focus on smoothing the transition back into family life, aiding in re-establishing the parent-child bond. Beyond legal representation, we offer mediation services to resolve custody disputes amicably.

For military families dealing with custody issues, working with Colburn Hintze Maletta provides access to legal support specifically adapted to military life. For legal assistance, reach out to us at 602-825-2500.

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