The presence of the Air Force Academy here in Colorado Springs, with all its surrounding bases, have made our home area a hotspot for military families. Our military families sacrifice a great deal for their country and for all of us. One extremely sad side effect of their sacrifices is the toll it can take on family life–a toll which can lead to divorce.
Even after a divorce settlement is reached, the uncertainty that comes with life in active-duty service can lead to more issues with custody arrangements. Dealing with military relocation and child custody is a challenge that has required legislative remedies and flexibility from the courts. The UDPCVA–Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act–is a legislative remedy aimed at meeting the unique challenges of military life.
The Basic Challenge in Military Relocation & Child Custody
Relocation is a difficult challenge for any divorced parents who are still working hard at raising their children together. A relocation of more than 50 miles away by a parent with primary or shared physical custody requires either authorization from the court or written agreement from the other spouse.
Suffice it to say, military deployments will exceed that 50-mile radius.
But the relocation of a military spouse is very different from that of a civilian. A civilian spouse might get a job opportunity in Salt Lake City. The relocation requires negotiation with their ex and the courts, but then both spouses and children can settle into a new routine.
A military spouse faces something entirely different. Let’s say we have a divorced couple, where the primary custodial parent is an Air Force pilot at one of the several bases that are near the Academy. That parent’s ex is a civilian now living in Denver. Both parents felt that the atmosphere near the Academy was good for their children, ages 12, 14 and 16. So, there was mutual agreement for the military spouse to have primary physical custody.
Now that parent has called upon for a 12-month tour of duty. The kids clearly aren’t going with them. But the military parent will return. All the same custody issues–the attraction of the Academy atmosphere–will still apply when the kids are 13,15 and 17. A whole new custody agreement seems inappropriate and isn’t even desired by the civilian spouse.
This is one of many situations where the Uniform Deployed Custody and Visitation Act (UDPCVA) comes into play.
What the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act Does
The UDPCVA serves to deal with the unique characteristics of military relocations. The Act allows for expedited court hearings, flexibility with timetables and interim solutions. The UDPCVA builds off the success of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and extends it into the arena of child custody
The SCRA provided protections for deployed troops on several legal fronts, including issues ranging from credit to property to other matters that would be adjudicated in civil courts. Deployed troops were generally protected from civil actions against them until they were in a position to defend themselves in court.
These were important protections for our servicemen and women, but child custody issues still had to be worked out under laws that were intended for civilians. Our example above only scratches the surface of issues the courts found it difficult to address in matters of military relocation and child custody.
With two civilian spouses, the spouse desiring to relocate must give advance notice to the other. A pilot told to report to Ramstein Air Force base in Germany within the next ten days can’t give that kind of notice and through no fault of their own. The UDPCVA provides the legal mechanism for courts to allow common-sense exceptions to rules regarding notification.
Then the UDPCVA allows for expedited hearings. The spouse from our example above really can’t wait for their case to work through the court docket. They need to get the kids enrolled in schools, set up in extracurricular activities and to deal with the multitude of issues that come when children move from one school district to another. The UDPCVA then allows the military spouse to give their testimony to the court via video conference if necessary.
Two things must happen--the court has to ratify an entirely new custodial agreement. And for situations like our hypothetical example, the agreement needs to be allowed to expire when the military parent comes back home.
The civilian parent will now be the primary custodial parent. The UDPCVA does, however, specifically instruct courts to be generous in the time that is allowed for the military parent to visit with their children. This includes video conferencing when the parent is abroad and in-person visits when the military parent can return for a few days on leave.
The agreement also must deal with issues of legal custody. Keep in mind that all child custody cases are split into two parts. The first is physical custody, which deals with where the children live. The second is legal custody, which refers to decision-making authority in areas like religion, education, and medical care.
Is the civilian parent in our example going to have sole legal custody in the interim agreement? Certainly, they will need some level of complete authority.
The rights of legal custody can include basic things like signing permission slips, taking kids for drivers’ tests, accepting routine medical treatments and any number of actions that the military parent will be in no position to deal with.
But what about issues like school? The military parent is quite likely to still want a say in where the kids attend. What if the medical issues involved go beyond an antibiotic for a bad flu bug? The military parent might quite reasonably still want to have their say.
All this underscores the fact that an interim custody agreement must be very specific, spelling out exactly what rights the civilian spouse has unilaterally and what rights must still be shared with their military ex overseas.
The Power of the Original Custody Agreement
Our example above presumes there were no conditions regarding military deployments in the original custody agreement. This is a presumption that is not universal to all military relocation and child custody cases. What happens if the civilian spouse got a provision in the original agreement?
The answer is that the original agreement must be adhered to by the judge hearing this case under UDPCVA guidelines. All of which serves to emphasize the importance of getting the right agreement the first time through.
All child custody cases involve a lot of detail and require specificity. That need for specificity is even more important when dealing with the uncertainties that come with military life. The way you get the detailed, specific agreement that protects your interests is by having an experienced lawyer on your side. A lawyer who has seen more than their fair share of cases like these before and knows what questions to ask.
The Law Office of Greg Quimby, P.C has been doing this work for over 20 years. We’ve been honored to serve the people of the Colorado Springs area, including its military families. We know that divorce is hard, and deployments are hard. Taken together, they are a unique burden. We might not be able to remove that burden, but we sure can work hard to make sure you get effective and diligent legal representation through it all. Call us today at (719) 212-4227 or contact us online today to set up an initial consultation.