The increased deployment of service members since 2001 has raised many difficult military child custody issues. Child custody disputes are complicated for anyone, but things can get even more complicated for military service members. Active duty parents face the possibility of sudden deployments, which can leave little time to prepare for family needs. A Family Care Plan (FCP) is essential for all families and especially critical for single parents and dual military parents.
An FCP can be a useful tool that can protect custodial rights and the well-being of children. The Department of Defense requires its service members who are single parents, pregnant, married, dual-military couples and legal guardians to have an up-to-date Family Care Plan that addresses the day-to-day and big-picture issues involved with raising children.
New Jersey’s Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act protects the custody of military parents who are deployed. The act prohibits permanent change of child custody during active military service and requires parents to exchange proposed parenting plans upon notice of deployment.
What’s in a Family Care Plan?
An FCP is designed to give caregivers a range of family care guidelines for a sudden or prolonged separation due to military duty. Elements of an FCP include:
- decision-making authority
- a list of close contacts and resources
- information about your financial matters
- deployment location, duration and conditions
- provision for childcare, education and medical care
- arrangement for housing, food and transportation needs
- the location of critical documents such as vaccination records and birth certificates
Plans need to be updated annually for changes in the preferred care provider, medical care, addresses and contact information. This is a legal document that must be in writing and signed by parents and legal guardians. If both parents are in the military, you should outline what should happen if you are both deployed at the same time.
An FCP is a temporary order, so as soon as the military parent returns, the child custody plan returns to normal. The key to family readiness for a successful deployment is advanced preparation. Planning can help families manage the uncertainties of deployment and ensure the well-being of your children.