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How does military service affect custody?

Activation to military service usually does not constitute grounds for modification of a child custody order in California. However, an order may be modified when an assignment requires a parent with sole or joint physical custody to move from their home, or when it has a significant impact on the parent's custody or visitation rights.

This modification is considered a temporary order that a judge may reconsider once the parent returns from the deployment. It is presumed that the original order will be reinstated unless reinstatement is not in the best interests of the child. If a temporary order is issued, the judge will take appropriate measures to assure that the parent can contact with the child.

Relatives of the parent who is deployed may receive visitation, if the parent files legal papers seeking these rights for a step-parent, grandparent or another family member. Granting this visitation does not affect child support calculations.

This motion will be granted if the judge believes the family member and the child have a pre-existing relationship and visitation is in the child's best interest. The judge must also find that visitation will bolster the child's contact with the deployed parent and balance the child's interest in visiting with the family member against the parents' right to exercise their authority.

Military deployment may prevent a parent from attending a scheduled hearing. When this occurs, the judge may act upon the parent's request over gaining access to the hearing. The judge may reschedule the custody or visitation hearing to convene before their deployment.

The court may also permit the parent to testify in court-ordered child mediation by other means, such as telephone, video teleconferencing or the internet, if these are available to the court and the process is fair to all parties. An attorney can assist parents with advocacy of their custody and visitation rights. Lawyers can also help assure that parents in the military can participate in hearings, in accordance with California law.

Source: WomensLaw.org, "The effect of military deployment on custody/visitation," Accessed June 4, 2017

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