Saturday, May 12, 2007

Child Custody Problems of US Soldiers

When single parent soldiers are deployed overseas, what happens to their children?

When a single parent is deployed overseas, their children may stay with the other parent, a relative or a friend. The single parent soldier most likely intends this to be a temporary arrangement --- when they return from serving their country, they anticipate that their children will be returned to them, and they will pick up where they left off.

Expecting your children to be returned to you after fighting for your country does not seem to be an outlandish request. In fact, at first glance, it would appear to be the right thing to do. If you are making the ultimate sacrifice by fighting for the USA, custody of your children should not be in jeopardy.

However, the standard for determining custody is what is in the child's best interests. During the parent's time away from home, that child might settle into a new neighborhood, lifestyle, school, group of friends, household and routine so that going back to live with the parent who had been away on military duty might be another disruptive transition that does not necessarily serve the child. Whoever the child is staying with (the other parent, grandparent, well-meaning relative, close friend) might decide to fight the parent for custody and the whoel matter ends up in court. That is a horrifying twist that many parents simply do not anticipate. Then, a judge, custody evaluator or other professional might decide that the status quo should remain, and deny the returning parent their request for full custody. Of course, in most instances (but not all), parents' rights are preferred over other individuals, such as relatives or friends. However, if you left your child with the other parent, just because you previously had custody, you are not necessarily in a superior position.

Prior to relinquishing custody of your child in any situation, you should consult with an attorney, familiar with family law in the jurisdiction where you live, to learn about your options. because child custody agreements can be modifiable based on the child's best interests, you may not be able to come up with an iron-clad contract. However, you may be able to construct an arrangement that preserves as many of your rights as possible so that you are in a better position than if you had just blindly hoped that everything would return to the situation in place before you were deployed. For more information, read this newspaper article.

Soldiers are not the only parents that voluntarily relinquish their custody rights. If you are ever in a position wherein you decide that your child should reside with someone else, even temporarily, consult with an attorney regarding all of the benefits and risks.