Today the Uniform Law Commission is meeting to consider final approval of proposed custody rules for military servicemembers. Their proposal—the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act (UDPCVA)—seeks to address many of the important issues that arise when a military parent deploys, and to resolve the wide variety of laws among the different states.
A servicemember parent will often create a Family Care Plan (FCP) to become effective upon their deployment, but in cases where a valid court order exists the FCP and order often come in conflict. The non-deploying parent is not required to sign off on an FCP, and many times the wishes of the deploying servicemember as set out in the FCP are overruled by the court order. Moreover, custody orders very rarely contain express provisions providing for a potential delegation of parental rights and responsibilities to a third party (such as a parent or new spouse of the deploying servicemember).
The UDPCVA would provide rules to govern out-of-court agreements reached by parents, provide procedures for temporary custody orders during deployment, and would allow for the short-term delegation of caretaking or decision-making rights by the deploying parent to a relative or other individual that has a close substantial relationship with the child (a stepparent of the child, for example). These short-term delegations would only last until the return of the deployed parent.
The Uniform Law Commission has proposed several other “model laws” of this nature, including the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which has been adopted by 49 out of the 50 states, including Virginia. The UCCJEA was created to prevent parents from moving from state to state seeking a certain outcome on child custody, often leaving in their wake several conflicting court orders, each one as valid as the rest. Similarly, the UDPCVA would keep one parent from using the different rules of different states to modify child custody while the other parent is deployed in hopes of gaining a custody advantage.
With a large number of residents serving in the military, Virginia is one state that has already adopted rules governing military parent deployment. In 2008, the legislature passed the Virginia Military Parents Equal Protection Act (VMPEPA), Virginia Code Section 20-124.7-10. The VMPEPA grants Virginia courts many of the powers set forth in the UDPCVA, including the delegation of visitation rights and granting expedited custody hearings to deploying parents.
As previously stated, however, not every state has a set of laws governing these issues, and the ones that do are often incompatible. Until the UDPCVA is approved by the Uniform Law Commission, and adopted by a majority of the states, custody and visitation issues surrounding deploying military parents will continue to be a difficult area for military families to navigate.
If you are a deploying military parent, or have a child with a deploying servicemember, and anticipate any custody or visitation issues as a result, the military divorce attorneys of Livesay & Myers, P.C., stand ready to assist you. We represent clients in Fairfax, Manassas, Woodbridge, Prince William County, Stafford, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Alexandria, Arlington, and throughout all of Northern Virginia. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.