When you are a part of a military family, something you will need to deal with is moving. Permanent Change of Station (PCS) often means moving across the country or even the world. It’s a necessary and inevitable part of military life. However, things become even more complicated when you and your spouse decide things are not working out anymore and choose to divorce.
Military relocation has a major impact on child custody when moving out of state. The final step in a divorce case is having a judge sign a Decree of Divorce, which includes your parenting agreement when there are children involved. Most Divorce Decrees in Texas include geographic restrictions. The same issue arises with SAPCR orders (Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship). Geographic restrictions are typically based on the county in which the order was signed and the counties touching that county (i.e. Travis County and Williamson County, Hays County, Caldwell County, Blanco County and Burnet County in Central Texas).
How Does This Affect Moving Out of State?
Your orders may already address relocation if you are a military family. However, if they don’t, then you will be treated as any other family before the court. The parent with the exclusive right to designate the primary residence (what everyone associates with the term “custody”) cannot simply decide to move the kids outside of a set a geographic restriction. The parent can move him / herself but would need to leave the child behind. The only way to relocate the child would be by seeking a modification to the Decree or SAPCR order.
Will My Ex Automatically Receive Custody of My Child if I Get PCS?
It depends. If your custodial agreement is already in place, and it does not contain a provision related to military relocation then you can work with the court along with your child’s other parent to modify the order. Remember that these orders are usually state-specific and you may be required to show how a relocation benefits your child.
Relocation cases are often hotly contested and represent the majority of trials and jury trials. The other parent may not agree to having the child or children moving to another state. If the other parent moves out of the geographic area first, then the restriction is typically lifted. These are difficult and complex cases where the parent wanting to move the child must show that it is in the best interest of the child to do so.
Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
The SCRA covers all active duty service members, reservists and the members of the National Guard while on active duty. The protection begins on the date of entering active duty and generally terminates within 30 to 90 days after discharge. SCRA includes language saying that courts cannot use military deployment as a reason for denying servicemembers child custody. Read More on the SCRA website.
Soldier Mom Image Courtesy Richard Foulser for Parade