As a United States military service member facing divorce, you may wonder how your next deployment may affect the custody plan you and your spouse are working to develop. Fortunately, family and military laws are already in place to give you guidelines and explain your options. 

The laws are not the same in every state, but Illinois and Missouri both have similar statutes that address custody issues for deploying parents. 

The parenting plan 

You and your spouse will create a child custody and visitation order that outlines the parental rights and responsibilities each of you has under normal circumstances. The courts consider what is in the children’s best interests when determining custody. Most assume that the best parenting plan gives children adequate time with both parents to develop healthy relationships. 

At this time, you can also create a temporary modification plan that addresses, among other issues, your children’s living situation and how you will remain in contact with them. Usually, the other parent takes care of the children when the military parent is unavailable. 

Your children’s other parent must work with you to create opportunities for phone or video calls and electronic communications within reasonable parameters. You will also include a provision that allows you to have custody or visitation when you have leave or are otherwise available to see your children during this time. 

Visitation rights for family members 

The laws state that you may request that a family member take over your visitation rights while you are gone. For example, you may want your children to be with your parents during the summer visitation and holidays that they would have spent with you. 

You will have to show that your children have a close relationship with the person or people they will stay with and that there is no history of domestic violence or other issues that may put the children in danger. You will also need to consider how it will affect your children and their other parent if the family member does not live nearby, which may include making travel arrangements. 

When you return from deployment, your family member’s temporary visitation rights come to an end. At no point during the family member’s visitation can he or she transfer the time to another person. So, if your mother has temporary visitation, she may not decide that your sister will take the children during that time, instead. Only you have the right to designate the substitution, and the court must approve it.