California Family Code Section 3047 directly addresses the issue of deployment and how it affects custody and visitation orders that are already in place. The code states, in part, that,
“A party's absence, relocation, or failure to comply with custody and visitation orders shall not, by itself, be sufficient to justify a modification of a custody or visitation order if the reason for the absence, relocation, or failure to comply is the party's activation to military duty or temporary duty, mobilization in support of combat or other military operation, or military deployment out of state."
When a servicemember deploys, this code sets forth that a temporary modification of the custody and visitation orders may take place in order to ensure that the best interests of the child are met while the parent is deployed. Upon return, the California court acts under the presumption that the temporary custody orders will revert back to the original order, provided that the best interests of the child reside in that reversion.
If a servicemember with sole or joint custody is to be deployed, they have an option under which they may ask to the court to modify the order to grant visitation rights to a step-parent, grandparent, or other family member. The judge can grant the visitation if the judge finds all of the following:?
• That there is a pre-existing relationship and bond between the family member and the child, so that visitation is in the child’s best interest;
• That the visitation will help the child's contact with the absent parent; and
• That there is a sufficient balance between: the interest of the child in having visitation with the family member and the right of the parents to use their parental authority.
This option is often sought when extended family already plays a large role in the child’s life. Including that family member through visitation, while one parent is absent on orders, will continue to enhance the child’s livelihood and maintain a thriving environment for them. It is important to note that the temporary visitation rights to a family member will NOT have an effect on the calculation of child support.
Finally, this code section works to accommodate the absent party’s inability to meet court dates that fall during deployment by either expediting the hearing or offering contact for real-time communication via electronic means. Both options are available to the servicemember and should be pursued if the situation arises.