With the unrest we see across the planet right now, attacks on our military bases in the Middle East and what not, it is important for military parents to understand their rights regarding their children in the event of a deployment.
T.C.A. 36-7-101, et seq establishes rights of deploying parents of Tennessee children. This article summarizes some of the important rights.
- If parent has been on deployment, this cannot be used against a parent in a custody dispute.
- The parents of a child my enter into a temporary agreement granting custodial responsibility during deployment, which must be in writing and signed by both parents and any nonparent to whom responsibility is granted, and the agreement (if it does not compromise National Security) must identify the destination, duration and conditions of the deployment that is the basis for the agreement, it must specify the allocation of caretaking authority among the deploying parent, the other parent and any nonparent; it must specify any decision-making authority that accompanies a grant of caretaking authority; it must specify any grant of limited contact to a nonparent, and if the custodial responsibility under the agreement is shared by the other parent and a nonparent, or by other nonparents, it must provide a process to resolve any dispute that may arise; the agreement must also specify the frequency, duration, and means, including electronic means, by which the deploying parent will have contact with the child, any role to be played by the other parent in facilitating such contact with the child, and the allocation of any costs of contact; it must specify the contact between the deploying parent and child during the time the deploying parent is on leave or is otherwise available; and it must acknowledge that any party's child support obligation cannot be modified by the agreement, that changing the terms of the obligation during deployment requires modification in the appropriate court. The agreement entered under these circumstances. This agreement shall also be filed with the court having jurisdiction over the child. Finally, the agreement must state that it will terminate according to procedures under part 4 of this chapter after the deploying parent returns from deployment.
- If a deploying parent has primary custody of the child, this parent can designate all or part of custodial responsibility to an adult nonparent while on deployment, which must be done by a power of attorney, and if no other parent possesses custodial responsibility of the child, or if a court order currently in effect prohibits contact between the child and the other parent. The deploying parent my revoke this power of attorney at any time by signing a revocation of the power of attorney.
- The agreement or power of attorney described above must be filed with the court within a reasonable time, and that court must have jurisdiction over the child by virtue of having previously entered n order on custodial responsibility or child support that is in effect; this agreement or power of attorney, once filed with the court, is binding on the parties upon approval by the court.
- Upon notice of deployment, any parent can file a request for a temporary modification of custodial responsibilities, but the court are prohibited from entering a permanent custody order while a parent is on deployment, and once the parent returns from deployment, the original custody order goes into effect and the temporary custody order is dissolved;.
- Parties can avoid the extra costs and time and stress of judicial proceedings describe in #4 above by entering into an agreement well before the deployment, which will be enforced by the courts in the event of an imminent deployment of a parent, unless the court finds that the agreement is not in the best interest of the minor child.
- It is important to note that if a deploying parent has to enforce his/her rights under the agreement, and the non-deploying parent violates the agreement, then the deploying parent, if he has to hire an attorney and incur costs of enforcement, will be awarded his/her attorneys' fees and costs incurred from the non-deploying parent.
- A deploying parent may file a motion with the court to grant caretaking authority to a nonparent who is an adult family member of the child which will be granted if the court finds that it is best for the child, which is limited to an amount of time not greater than the amount of time granted to the deploying parent under a permanent custody order, but the court may add unusual travel time necessary to transport the child or if there is no permanent custody order in effect, the amount of time that the deploying parent habitually cared for the child before being notified of deployment , but the court may add unusual travel time necessary to transport the child. If the other parent agrees to a different amount of time, the court will ratify that agreement. The court may also grant part of a deploying parent's decision-making authority, if the deploying parent and the other parent are both unable to exercise that authority, to a nonparent who is an adult family member of the child or an adult with whom the child has a close and substantial relationship. If a nonparent is granted such authority, the court shall specify the decision-making powers granted , including decisions regarding the child's education, religious upbringing, health care, extracurricular activities, and travel. This grant of authority is temporary and terminates after the deploying parent's return from deployment, unless the grant has been terminated before that time by court order. The grant of this authority does not create an independent, continuing right to the decision-making or caretaking authority, or limited contact in an individual to whom the authority is granted. However, the nonparent has standing to enforce this grant of authority until it is terminated by a court order. The court may also enter a temporary order for child support to be awarded to the nonparent if it is consistent with Tennessee law if the court has jurisdiction under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act. If the deploying parent no longer wants the non-parent to have caretaking or decision-making authority, the deploying parent may file a motion to terminate the authority and the court shall grant it upon the filing of the deploying parent's motion to terminate.