A nonmilitary parent in Pennsylvania generally cannot request any permanent amendment to an existing child custody order that was issued by a Pennsylvania court because of the subsequent deployment of the military parent. However, either the military or nonmilitary parent may request a temporary modification due to military deployment, with the understanding that the terms of the original agreement will be reinstated upon the military parent’s return from deployment.
A military member may also elect to temporarily cede any parenting rights to the member’s family during deployment, including parents or siblings. Both the service member and the family members under consideration must petition the court jointly, and the court must consider such a move to be in the children’s best interests. Additionally, a custody plan must be included in the petition and such a plan may not exceed the rights of the military member that were set forth in the original custody order.
A parent on active duty may file any motions deemed necessary at any time, including while on deployment, so long as certain requirements are met. The court is prohibited from considering absence due to deployment on military service as a negative factor against that parent in further proceedings after the parent’s return. This is particularly relevant when evaluating possible custody arrangements and the fitness of each parent to act in the children’s best interests.
Because of the additional considerations military law imposes upon Pennsylvania divorces, child custody issues become more complex when one or both parents are on active duty. A family law attorney may suggest mediation or alternate custody arrangements for a parent who is to be deployed, or recommend a temporary modification of an existing agreement.