The Military Parents Rights Act

2011-2012 Regular Session - Georgia Senate Bill 112

Article written July, 2011

 

          On May 11, 2011, Georgia's governor Nathan Deal signed into law Senate Bill 112, which addresses how custody and visitation arrangements for children will be handled when one of that child's parents serve in the military and are deployed.
          When deployment is in the near future, Georgia now provides that petitions to temporarily modify an existing parenting plan because of a parent's deployment shall be heard by the courts as expeditiously as possible.  So if mom is going to have to deploy, a petition to modify custody to be with dad ought to be finalized before mom deploys.  On the tail end of deployment, if a parent comes home to find a modification case in progress, the law now appreciates the hectic transition of returning home: final modifications of parenting plans are not to be entered by a court earlier than 90 days after a deployment ends (unless the deployed parent agrees).
           Temporary modification orders such as the one described above transferring custody from the deploying parent to the non-deploying parent must include a reasonable schedule for returning to the pre-deployment parenting plan after the deployment is over.  A specific date for the anticipated end of deployment must be set if possible.  
           A deploying parent can petition for some of his or her parenting time to be delegated by the court to a family member or loved one during the deployment.  This means that if dad deploys, and custody is temporarily given to mom during the deployment, dad can petition the court to appoint some of dad's parenting time to dad's parents, dad's brother or sister, or even dad's significant other.  Of course, the court will consider the child's best interest and whether the child has a close and substantial relationship with the person to whom dad asks the court to grant this visitation. These rights are temporary -- they last only as long as the deployment.

           A temporary modification can allow for extended visitation periods when a deploying parent is on leave or on furlough from deployment.  Of course, telephone, e-mail and other digital communication with a deployed parent can be addressed in the temporary plan.  This new law not only applies to modifications of existing plans, but also addresses the creation of new plans where none exist and deployment appears imminent. 

           A VERY important part of this new law is O.C.G.A. section 19-9-3(b)(i)(7), which reads: "Because actual leave from a deployment and departure dates for a deployment are subject to change with little notice due to military necessity, such changes shall not be used by the nondeploying parent to prevent contact between the deploying parent and his or her child."  This code section is designed to provide military parents with protection from having the facts and circumstances of their careers of service used against them.

           It is important to note the responsibility this law puts on military parents while also protecting their rights with their children.  Military parents have the duty to ensure that any military family care plan filed with their commanders is consistent with the court orders for his or her child.