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The Deployed Parents Act: Protecting Parents (Part 1 of 2)

By Amy A. Edwards

In North Carolina, we’re fortunate to have the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act, which helps military parents balance their military duties while they are deployed and their desire to maintain their bond with their children. Not only that, but the Act allows the child to preserve the relationship with deployed parent’s side of the family, or even an unrelated non-parent that the deploying parent nominates. Parents who reach an agreement about what will happen between the child and the non-parent during deployment can have the agreement treated as a court order if they take certain legal steps. But the Act also protects the military parent when there is no agreement. It also requires the court to offer an expedited trial to take place before a parent deploys.

What the Act Does: Parental Rights

Before the Act, if a parent temporarily surrendered custody as the military often required, his or her parental rights were seriously compromised from the viewpoint of the North Carolina courts. Surrendering custody before the Act put a parent at risk for losing permanent custody to the non-parent. Giving someone else custody of your child could be seen as acting inconsistently with your constitutional rights as a parent. Our state law simply didn’t have any solution to the problem. Now, the Act allows judges to enter temporary custody orders for the sole purpose of protecting military parents while they perform their military duties. The deploying parent can nominate a third party who is a non-parent, such as a grandparent or even a close family friend, to have limited rights in his or her place while that parent is gone.

What the Act Does: Special Problems

Military deployment isn’t convenient for anyone, including judges who may not deal with military parents very often. Judges make custody orders detailed and specific with exact dates, exact times, transportation arrangements and other things that are likely to be disputed. The more details a custody order has, the harder it is for a parent to “interpret” it when there is a question. For judges, it can be complicated to figure out how the parent and child can remain close while he or she may not even be on the same continent, in a situation where no one necessarily knows the important details surrounding the deployment.

The Act generally requires these temporary orders to “provide for liberal communication” between the child and parent while the parent is deployed, specifically including electronic communication such as FaceTime. It also allows the parent, or witness who isn’t reasonably available, the right to testify by phone or electronically. The temporary order must also “provide for liberal contact” between the child and parent while the parent is on leave or otherwise is available to see the child. This compliments our state child custody law which prohibits a court from looking at a parent’s past deployment or possible future deployment as the only basis in deciding what is in a child’s best interest. Instead, the court may consider deployment as one of multiple factors in deciding what is in a child’s best interest.

Who is Eligible for the Protections of the Act?

There are a number of requirements to qualify for the protections of the Act but the first one is that a parent must be in the active or reserve components of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard, a Merchant Marine, commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, commissioned corps of the NOAA, or National Guard. The next requirement is that the deployment be a movement or mobilization to a location for more than 90 days, but less than 18 months, pursuant to an official order that’s designated as unaccompanied, does not authorize dependent travel, or otherwise doesn’t allow the movement of family members there. Returning from deployment means that the parent returns based on the uniformed service orders. For purposes of the child custody case, a parent’s residence is not changed just because he or she is deployed.


* The Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act, Chapter 50A, Article 3 of the North Carolina General Statutes.   

Amy A. Edwards is a family law attorney in Greenville, NC, certified by the NC State Bar Board of Legal Specialization as a Family Law Specialist, and is licensed only in NC. Laws change. This article is current as of 2019. ©

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