Military Deployments and their Effect on Child Custody

September 28, 2010

The news each day seems to be filled with headlines about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces in Iraq and the return of many of them to the United States, a recent Amendment to the Pennsylvania Divorce Code is likely to be put into use more frequently. 

At the end of 2008, the Divorce Code was amended to prevent the Court from changing a custody order where a parent is a servicemember and has been deployed, except on a temporary basis. The Court may make a temporary change to the order if it would serve the best interests of the child to do so while the servicemember is deployed. This part of the new law is not that different from all other custody procedures, which look to the best interests of the child as a guide. 

It is the second part of the law that has the potential to affect many returning servicemembers in the months and years to come. The second part of this change to the law provides that, if the Court does make a temporary change to an order, the Order that was in effect prior to the servicemember’s deployment goes back into effect upon the return of the servicemember from deployment. This is a significant addition to the custody law in Pennsylvania. This requires that automatically, and seemingly without exception, the prior Order goes into effect upon return of the servicmember. There is no contemplation of what is best for the child, how long the servicemember was gone, or any other circumstances. Rather, the temporary Order that was issued during the servicemember’s absence is no longer effective and the previous order goes back into effect. 

So what does all this mean? It means that if you are a servicemember who is returning from deployment or if you are on the other side of a custody order from a servicemember returning from deployment, you should discuss with an attorney whether this law has an effect on your current custody order.