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Child Custody Challenges for Military Service Members

High levels of U.S. military activity globally have significantly impacted service members with child custody arrangements. What happens when a divorced or single military father or mother with a custody and visitation arrangement is deployed away from home?

Family law matters like these are traditionally governed by state law, which can vary from state to state. So while military service is mostly federally controlled, what happens to the kids in a military divorce is largely a state-law question.

The Uniform Law Commission is a large group of attorneys with representation from every state. For more than 100 years, the commission has drafted proposed uniform laws on particular topics when it would be ideal for each of the 50 states' laws to be similar and coordinating.

The commission recently drafted the Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act for consideration by state legislatures, which must individually decide whether to adopt all or some of the Act's provisions into their state family law codes in the interest of creating state systems for military parents with custody problems that are more complimentary to those of sister states.

Currently, each state has crafted its own laws governing military parents' custody and visitation arrangements upon deployment.

For example, Georgia has detailed provisions for establishing temporary child custody arrangements when a military parent is deployed, and for transitioning back to the previous or to another arrangement when he or she returns.

Overall, Georgia law seems sensitive to the unique challenges of parental military deployment. The law repeatedly recognizes that time and communication are of the essence, and that both parents and the court must receive notice of important developments during this time of deployment. Hence, absent military parents are allowed to participate in hearings via electronic means.

Interestingly, Georgia law allows the court to substitute another person for the deployed parent in the parenting time schedule. Accordingly, in that parent's absence, another family member of that parent, someone with whom he or she lives, or another person having a close relationship with the child be granted parenting time during the deployment.

The law keeps jurisdiction with the Georgia court if the nondeploying parent moves out of state during the deployment, so that the military parent can seek a child custody remedy there upon returning.

And while Georgia's law protects the rights of both separated parents in a military family, the best interests of their children are always paramount in its provisions.

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