Serving in our nation’s military is a brave and noble act. However, being on active military duty can be taxing on a person’s relationship with their spouse, and sometimes, this leads to divorce. When a military parent divorces, a child custody and visitation order will be made. But, how is this order treated if a military parent is deployed?
Under Virginia Code §20-124.8, when a military parent is deployed, her or she may move the court to delegate his or her visitation time to a member of the child’s family (including a stepparent). This individual must have a relationship with the child that is both close and substantial. If the court determines that such a delegation is in the child’s best interests, then the judge can enter the following orders.
First, the court can delegate some or all of the military parent’s visitation time with the child to the selected family member, if the military parent had visitation rights with the child before being deployed. Second, the court can award visitation time to the selected family member if the military parent had physical custody of the child before being deployed and the non-deploying parent or a relative of the non-deploying parent is granted temporary physical custody of the child while the custodial parent is deployed.
Once the military member returns from deployment, a hearing will be held to amend the temporary deployment custody or visitation order. If the non-deploying parent wishes to retain the deployment custody or visitation order, or another order that is different from the one issued before the military parent was deployed, he or she bears the burden of demonstrating that reentering the pre-deployment order is not in the best interests of the child. This can help ensure that a deployment does not get in the way of a parent maintaining a strong and meaningful relationship with his or her child.
Deployed parents should not have their custody or visitation rights put into jeopardy because they are ordered to fulfill their duties away from their home base. Having visitation with a relative chosen by the military parent while the military parent is deployed can benefit the child, who will not lose contact with that parent’s side of the family. And, unless the non-deployment parent can show otherwise, upon return from service, the military parent can retain the rights they had to the child prior to being deployed.