Series on Child Custody: Part Four, Military Deployment’s Effects on Custody, Visitation, and Support

Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country  – John F. Kennedy

As a military service member facing a deployment, to say you are doing a lot for your country is a severe understatement.  And, as a military parent, deployment poses enough issues without having to worry about how it might affect the current custody, visitation, and support arrangement regarding your minor child(ren).  Fortunately, when deployment is an issue, the Military Parent Equal Protection Act, S.C. Code Ann. § 63-5-900 through 950 (2009), provides for special rules regarding custody, visitation and support.

For active duty personnel, “military service” means a deployment that does not permit a family member to accompany the parent on the deployment; and, for members of the National Guard, it means a call to active service for a period of more than thirty days. See S.C. Code Ann. § 63-5-910(A)(1) & (2) (2009).

If you currently have no visitation or custody order in place, upon motion of either parent, the family court is required to expedite a temporary hearing to establish temporary custody or visitation, support or other appropriate relief.

If you have an existing custody or visitation order, the existing child custody or visitation order can be temporarily modified to make reasonable accommodation because of the military service.  BUT, the temporary modification “automatically terminates when the military parent is released from service” and the original order is automatically reinstated. S.C. Code Ann. § 63-5-920(B) (2009).  And, if deployment is necessary before a court hearing can be held, the parents are “encouraged to negotiate mutually agreeable arrangements prior to mobilization” and there is even statutory language requiring the parents to cooperate with each other.  S.C. Code Ann. § 63-5-940(A) & (B) (2009).  In the event either parent does not provide reasonable accommodation, the family court may consider that behavior in awarding attorneys’ fees and costs.

In either situation, hopefully it helps to know that a special circumstance such as deployment calls for special rules.