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Parents in the Military: Visitation Rights for Deployed Parents

Military Deployment and Visitation

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When a parent who is on active duty with one of the branches of the U.S. Military deploys, the non-deploying parent must make appropriate arrangements for a child to visit or speak with the deployed parent during his/her tour. In preparation for the tour, the deploying parent must provide leave orders as soon as reasonably possible to the non-deploying parent, generally within 10 days of receipt of deployment papers.

Visitation Standard for Military Parents

The court's visitation standard for a deploying parent and a child is simple:

  • The child should be reasonably available to the deploying parent when the parent is on leave

  • The non-deploying parent shall make the child available for telephone calls and emails

Substitute Visitation

When the service member is a non-custodial parent and leaves for active duty, and the service member's family is not permitted to visit with the child, this adds an extra layer of difficulty because the service member's contact is essentially cut off from his/her child.

Some courts have delegated the visitation, granted to the non-custodial parent service member, to another family member, such as a grandparent or sibling, related to the service member, during the service member's active service.

Substitution of visitation is not similar to grandparent's rights, as it does not involve a grandparent requesting to visit with a child after a divorce or separation. A grandparent or a sibling would not have visitation rights in his/her own name. Instead he/she would be stepping into the shoes of a parent and actively participating in the child's life, as the service member would do if he/she were present.

A court would need to approve a substitute visitation arrangement based on:

  • The best interests of the child
  • Demonstrating that the substitute parent (i.e. grandparent or sibling) had a substantial relationship with the child, prior to a parent's deployment

Custody and Visitation After the Service Member Returns

Often, returning service members who previously had custody of their children must petition the court for custody rights after they return from their tour of duty. Some courts have considered allowing a custody and visitation order to immediately revert back to the service member upon his/her return. However, parents should also be aware that current laws surrounding military custody and visitation are subject to change.

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