WE WANT YOU…to Understand Military Divorce and Custody

San Diego is home to the nation’s largest concentration of military personnel. San Diego’s seven military bases serve the approximately 100,000 active duty service men and woman and their families (the total rises to 175,000 when dependents are taken into account.)  In addition, San Diego is home to 60child-and-flag-225x300% of the ships in the fleet of the U.S. Navy, and 1/3 of the active duty force of the U.S. Marine Corps.  In fact, the military and its spending in the region accounted for 26% of the jobs in San Diego in 2011.  None of this accounts for the more than 250,000 veterans who call San Diego home.  With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that San Diego family law attorneys handle many military dissolution actions.

For the most part, military divorce is very much like any other divorce.  The issues, such as child custody, child and spousal support, property division are the same as any other family law case.  However there are aspects of military divorce that are unique to service men and women.  In this blog, I will discuss some issues military members confront concerning child custody and visitation.

Custody is a difficult issue in any case.  In military cases, the issue is complicated by the many “unknowns” associated with a members work schedule or location.  Even members on shore duty know that things can change at a moment’s notice.  When you add extended trainings, deployments, or temporary duty into the mix, it becomes difficult for a member to maintain a consistent and normal schedule.

We try to work with members to come up with liberal and flexible visitation schedules taking into account their commitment to the country and the best interest of the children. It is important that members be realistic about their availability and what type of visitation schedule they are capable to following.

A question we are often asked is, “What happens when I am deployed?”  The answer is very straight forward, and for what it is worth makes common sense.  If a service member receives temporary duty, deployment, or mobilization orders from the military the other parent will be awarded sole physical custody of the children during the period of the member is not available.  At the conclusion of the deployment, the prior schedule will be “automatically” reinstated and visitation will continue as before the deployment.

We use quotes in the last sentence because, like everything in family law, there are exceptions to that rule.  Upon the return of the member from deployment, the Court may set a review hearing to determine whether or not reverting to the prior schedule is in the best interest of the child.  In that hearing, the court cannot use the member’s absence as a basis to modify the prior order.  In a majority of cases, upon the member’s return, the schedule reverts without much issue.  In the cases where changes are made, the changes are usually very temporary (to allow a period of adjustment), typically involve younger children, and is the result of extended deployment.  This process is covered by statute in Family Code §3047 which you can read here.

When a visitation schedule is modified prior to a deployment, we make efforts to ensure our clients are provided with continued contact their children (e.g. Skype or FaceTime visits, allowing for contact during leave periods, etc.) This not only promotes continued contact with the deployed parent, but also facilitates an easier transition upon their return.

At times a service man or woman might feel that the deck is stacked against them in their custody case.  While it is true that military personal face obstacles their civilian counterparts do not, there are creative solutions that allow members to keep their commitment to the country, their children, and their military career.  The attorneys at the Law Office of Nancy J. Bickford have the knowledge and experience to assist in finding the creative solution that fits your career and your family.

Feel free to contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding military divorce. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

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