Protecting your custody rights during active duty

Parents in Washington who are members of the military might be concerned about how active duty might affect existing custody orders and upcoming custody decisions. They might worry that they could lose custody or visitation rights. However, there are a variety of protections in place for service members related to custody.

Child custody decisions and active service

Being deployed for active service can have an impact on the child and the parents. It can also have an impact on the decisions courts make regarding custody and visitation. However, the Defense-State Liaison Office has worked to ensure that a parent’s deployment will not be used as the only basis for denying custody to a military parent. The DSLO also protects service members by ensuring that no permanent modifications can be made to an existing order while the parent is deployed and that original custody orders must be followed within a reasonable time after the parent returns from deployment.

Additional protections under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

This act is designed to protect service members’ legal custody rights during deployment, ensuring that service members can get a postponement or stay of any court proceedings that they cannot be present for due to deployment. People who are covered under this act include:

  • Members of all military branches serving in active duty
  • Reserve members serving in active duty
  • Coast Guard members serving in active duty supporting other branches of the military
  • National Guard members serving in active duty through federal orders

Other protections

Another way to ensure your custody rights are respected when you are deployed is to include a clause in your custody agreement that addresses how deployment will be handled. You should also create a Family Care Plan that outlines who will take care of the children’s financial, health and other needs during your deployment.