In this article we conclude our series by discussing two related-important legal issues of custody and child support. The rights of our military heroes are more protected than in the past as long as they are aware of their rights. The JAG office can sometimes perform services to assist with child custody and support issues, however. The court battles often require the experience of a local family law attorney to negotiate and file motions to modify custody and/or child support. Child Custody
Child custody and child support are distinct issues not to be confused. Child custody generally involves the physical custody of the child. The parents might receive an award of joint or shared custody of a child. Visitation is the time awarded to a parent or other family member in lieu of having joint custody. If deployed, a service member should abide by any existing court order, which will likely order the service member to exchange the child with the other parent before leaving the United States. Our government has also sought to protect rights of deployed parents to regain custody and visitation once they return from deployment. Custody Modification
It is possible to modify the custody arrangement. A custody modification can be accomplished without costly litigation if the parties proactively discuss their need for a modification. In cases of children of service members or veterans, the need for a custody modification is often the result of a proposed relocation. In North Carolina, the courts considered the child’s best interests to determine whether to modify custody or visitation. A court might also refuse to modify a prior Order unless a substantial change of circumstances has occurred; however, a move for employment reasons is likely a substantial change of circumstances. Based upon the case law, a court will likely use several factors to determine the child’s best interests. If a trial court uses these factors to determine the child’s best interests then its decision is more likely to be upheld on appeal.Passports and PKPA
To get a child's passport the government requires the consent of both parents in the majority of cases. To get a child's passport the government requires the consent of both parents in the majority of cases. In unfortunate cases some parents have taken a child outside of the country without the permission of the other parent. As a result, governments have implemented laws and signed treaties, including the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA). United States service members and veterans are subject to these laws. Setting a Child Support Amount
Child support is the money provided to meet the child's needs. Both parents have a duty to provide support for their children. Everyone should understand that the military’s purpose for their support requirements is to be a temporary solution. The military prefers assisting with enforcement of SAPS and orders, rather than setting a long term support amount. Once a SAPS is signed or court order on support is entered it is the controlling document. Even if no court order exists, a service member may be required to pay retroactive child support if the custodial parent makes this claim. Child Support Modification
If a child and custodial parent move to a new state, then the noncustodial parent may attempt to get a new court order to pay support according to the state's guidelines. However, the court likely has the power to modify child support upwards or downwards. If the custodial parent and child move to a state in which the child reaches the age of majority sooner, the noncustodial parent might benefit from a Motion to Modify Child Support. Waivers of support obligations are sometimes available to service members. The Navy has a waiver process for child support; say for instance, if it is apparent that the person requesting child support does not have physical custody of the child. A waiver is unlikely to override a court’s order, and so a service member should still consult a JAG or civilian attorney in North Carolina to ensure that the service member is in compliance.
If circumstances have changed substantially such that the existing custody order is not workable, gather your evidence to prove that a modification would be in the best interests of your child. If you are defending against a proposed relocation then gather evidence related to the factors discussed above. Always continue paying child support according to the State's guidelines, unless an existing Order on Child Support allows the parties to do otherwise. Start with asking a JAG about the applicable law where you reside. Attempt to discuss the issues with your former spouse.
Disclaimer: This article is intended to provide general legal information to the readers. Consult a licensed attorney in your state for legal advice on your situation.