By Molly Murphy
Attorney, Cordell & Cordell
Military families are those that consist of one or both parties being active in the military. Military parents going through a divorce have more rights and options than they might think when they begin an action in the family court. For purposes of this article, this does not include one or both parties being active in the National Guard.
When a party enlists in the military, they do that with the knowledge that their life will never be routine. They know they may be stationed anywhere from the continental United States or abroad. Most parties also do not know whether they will be deployed to a war zone or not. Fortunately where I practice, the State of Missouri allows these military parties to enjoy the benefits of the Family Court without being penalized for their travelling or salary changes.
I have had several cases where my military client has returned on a break from being stationed abroad to the marital residence only to find that their spouse has left them. They further are served almost immediately with divorce paperwork. It must be extremely difficult for a military parent to return home and face a dissolution or a custody battle and return to active duty while legal action is still going on.
I would encourage military parents to find an attorney who understands the laws exceptions for military parents. They also need to be able to find an attorney who they know they can count on to appear in court for them, and will actively pursue their case
I would further encourage military parents to seek a parenting plan that will allow them to accumulate time for the weeks or months they are unable to see their children. I have prepared parenting plans that give a military parent a three-day period for each two-week period missed. Said three day periods can be redeemed at any time when the military parent returns to “normal” life.
I would also encourage military parents to ensure in their parenting plan that there is a clause that allows their children to attend military sponsored activities such as base tours, family picnics or summer camps. These outings will help the minor children connect with their military parent even if their parent is active in another location.
But what if you already have a custody plan in place and you are deployed? A military parents 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 absence, relocation or failure to comply is party’s activation to military service and deployment out-of-state. (RSMo 452.412.1 2010)
This law in itself allows a military parent to be able to serve their country without any negative repercussions for missing their custody and visitation rights with their children. This further ensures that their custody arrangement will be the same when they return.
Military parents may also end up making less money in the service then they do in their everyday life. How is the military parent supposed to be responsible for their child support or other support of their children when their presumed income is higher than what they are currently making?
Missouri law states that whenever a parent has a change in income due to emergency military service, such change in income shall be considered a change in circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the terms of any order or judgment for child support or visitation unreasonable. The military parent must obtain a notarized letter from their commanding officer in emergency military service that contains the date of commencement of the service and the compensation of the military parent, and send it to the director of the Division of Child Support Enforcement. The director shall take appropriate action to seek modification of the order or judgment of child support. Emergency military service means that the parent is a member of a reserve unit or National Guard unit that is called into active military duty for a period of more than thirty days. (RSMo 452.416.1-4 2010)
Upon return from emergency military service, the parent shall notify the director of the Division of Child Support Enforcement who shall take the appropriate action to seek a modification of the order entered during emergency military services.
In closing, military parents do have more rights and options than they might think when they begin an action in the family court. I would urge any military parent to find an attorney who they know understands their situation and the law that applies to it. Cordell & Cordell does recognize all of those who serve in the different branches of the military by giving them a 10% credit (applies to those who are active in the military) on their final bill.
Margaret “Molly” P. Murphy is an Associate Attorney in the Arnold, Missouri office of Cordell & Cordell where she practices exclusively in the area of domestic relations. Ms. Murphy is admitted to practice law in the state of Missouri. Ms. Murphy was born and raised in St. Louis. She received her B.A. in Political Science and English Language and Literature in 1998 from the University of Tulsa where she graduated magna cum laude. Ms. Murphy received her Juris Doctor from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2001.