As a member of the U.S. military who also happens to be a parent, you’ve no doubt encountered challenges throughout your service as you try your best to fulfill your military duties and obligations to your family, as well. You might relate to other South Dakota servicemembers whose marriages have not outlasted their military service. If you’ve recently finalized a divorce or are preparing to do so, you’ll be glad to know that the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) will protect your parental rights if child custody problems arise while you’re deployed.
If you’re an active-duty member of the Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard or Reserves, the legal and financial protections provided under the SCRA apply to you. This may be especially relevant if you are serving a deployment overseas and child custody problems arise back home. The more you know about the SCRA ahead of time, the better equipped you’ll be, if you’re dealing with an ex who is trying to undermine or usurp your parental rights in a divorce.
How the SCRA applies to child custody proceedings
In a perfect world, you and your spouse might divorce and peacefully negotiate terms of agreement for a child custody plan, then go your separate ways in life and amicably interact, as necessary, to provide and care for your children. In reality, things can get quite messy if one parent is disregarding a court order or is trying to use child custody proceedings to take revenge against the other parent.
For instance, your ex might decide to wait until you deploy to seek modification of a child support or custody order. This is where the SCRA comes into play. As an active-duty military servicemember, you are protected against civil lawsuits if you are serving a deployment and are unable to attend proceedings in person. In other words, your ex cannot sue you for custody or try to change the terms of agreement in an existing court order until such time that you can participate in a hearing in person.
A family court judge can issue temporary orders
It’s important to understand that protection against civil litigation doesn’t necessarily mean a judge overseeing your child custody case will not issue a temporary order of some kind while you’re serving on active duty away from home. Military divorce issues can be complex.
For instance, if you’re remarried after divorce but your ex has joint custody, should you leave your kids with their stepparent or biological parent during a deployment? It’s critical that you and your ex adhere to the exact terms of agreement in your child custody orders. Disregarding such orders can prompt a judge to find the parent in question in contempt of court.
Keeping children’s best interests in mind in a military divorce
Just as the SCRA exists to help you protect your parental rights as a military parent in a divorce, the court’s primary concern during all child custody proceedings is to make decisions that reflect your children’s best interests. Being away from your kids while serving in the U.S. military is never easy and can be particularly stressful during or after a divorce.
You should never hesitate to tap into military or local resources available to help you protect your parental rights, your financial assets and, most of all, your children’s best interests as you adapt to a post-divorce lifestyle and continue to fulfill your duties in the U.S. military.