In 1940, the World was gearing up for war. Many countries were already in the fight. Nazis occupied Poland, and on September 27, the Axis Powers officially formed as Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union signed the Tripartite Pact.
In the midst of global turmoil, the United States Congress enacted the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Civil Relief Act of 1940 (SSCRA). They did so with our troops’ and our country’s best interests in mind. 63 years later, with the country embroiled in another war, Congress passed the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).
What is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)?
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) was created to ease financial burdens on deployed military personnel. The law protects servicemen from crippling debt, property and real estate disputes, and allows them to focus on the war, not their financial and personal obligations at home.
The law gives the Attorney General the power to file a federal lawsuit against any person, organization, or entity that violates a service member’s rights under the SCRA. The Justice Department, Attorney General, and the Federal Government step in to protect our servicemen and to fight their legal battles at home.
Child Custody and The SCRA
While deployed and 90 days after their service is concluded, servicemen’s child custody rights are protected by the Federal Government. The SCRA:
- Protects them from default judgments at child custody hearings.
- Postpones proceedings, including custody hearings, after the servicemembers receive notice.
The Uniform Deployed Parent Custody and Visitation Act
In 2017, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws drafted the UDPCVA. This law has only been passed by 10 states, and Virginia is not one of them. In the states where it was passed, the law adds the following protections:
- The deploying parent must notify the other parent of the deployment as soon as possible
- The court cannot consider past or future deployments when it makes a best interest of the child determination at a custody hearing
- Creates a framework aimed to help parents form out-of-court custody and visitation agreements that cover the period of the deployment
- Prohibits a permanent custody arrangement to be ordered without the deployed parent’s consent
- Expedites proceedings for a deployed parent who are unlikely to otherwise form a custody agreement prior to deployment
- Allows the court to intervene if the parents can’t agree to end the temporary custody agreement
No, Virginia didn’t pass the UDPCVA, but the proposed law is still significant. In many states across the country, servicemen’s custody rights are expanding, and it doesn’t look like this trend is going to stop anytime soon.
Anything else, Virginia?
In 2017, many custody and visitation bills have been debated. Many have failed, but these two bills survived and were enacted:
- VA H 1456. Passed on 2/17/17, this bill allows a court that is presiding over a child custody or visitation hearing to use the word “parenting time” interchangeably with the word “visitation.”
- VA H 1586. Passed on 3/16/17, this bill states that child custody orders should be given to the school at which that child is enrolled at the time the order was granted and also to the school at which the child will attend after he/she moves in compliance with the custody order.
How Can You Protect Your Child Custody Rights BEFORE Deployment?
Servicemen can also do the following before they leave:
- Make a Family Plan. This is a letter describing the reasons, legal and otherwise, why your child(ren) need to stay with relatives or a trusted family member while you’re deployed. If the child’s mother hasn’t been declared unfit by the court, hasn’t waived her custody rights, and has not had her access to your child previously restricted by a court, she will likely be granted custody in spite of your Family Plan. Nevertheless, you should still file the Family Plan with your military branch and the Department of Defense. At least your opinions and intentions will be on file for a judge to see.
- Hire an attorney and fight for sole custody before you leave. If comprise seems impossible, hire an attorney. Your custody rights can’t be taken away from you while you’re deployed, but neither will the mother’s rights. If you don’t want her to have custody while you’re gone, you need to convince a court that there are legal reasons why she shouldn’t be afforded custody and visitation rights while you’re deployed.
Call The Firm For Men’s Military Lawyers
So, now you know your rights. The Federal Government protects your custody and visitation rights while you’re deployed. You can’t lose your rights, but you may still be worried. You may fear your child’s mom isn’t fit to parent alone.
Before you deploy, do what you can to arrange your custody and visitation plans in as amicable a manner as possible. If that fails, and court is on the horizon, don’t wait until you get back to the U.S. to settle your dispute. Act now, fight for your rights, and call the child custody attorneys at The Firm For Men at 757-383-9184. As former military servicemembers and experienced attorneys, we can guide you through preserving and protecting your rights.