The Commonwealth of Virginia has the second largest military population in the United States. In 2008, the legislature enacted the Virginia Military Parents Equal Protection Act, which addresses the concerns of deploying parents regarding custodial and visitation decisions. The Virginia Military Parents Equal Protection Act defines who is considered to be a deploying parent, including not only active duty but activated reserve units, and grants special rights to active duty service members with respect to custody and visitation. The Act defines a deploying parent as “a parent of a child under the age of 18 whose parental rights have not been terminated by a court of competent jurisdiction or a guardian of a child under the age of 18 who is deployed or who has received written orders to deploy with the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, National Guard, or any other reserve component thereof.” Military personnel are relocated and deployed throughout their career. In many cases, military personnel, both enlisted and officers, are unable to actively parent their children because they are deployed in the service of our country. When this happens, custody orders and/or visitation plans may be thrown into turmoil. The Virginia Military Parents Equal Protection Act provides legal protection to members of the military in child custody and visitation issues. Simply put, you can’t use the fact that a parent is in the military and subject to deployment as an argument for changing the child custody and/or visitation order.
The Act allows any deploying parent to:
- Temporarily modify the current custody and/or visitation order to ensure that the service member’s deployment status is clearly stated as the reason for a change in the order and to ensure that the matter is re-heard within 30 days of the service member’s return from deployment
- Designate his or her physical visitation time in the existing order to a family member with whom the child has a close relationship, including the spouse (stepparent) of the deploying parent, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. The delegation of these rights is temporary and do not create a separate visitation right for the relative.
- Order the non-deploying parent to facilitate phone calls, Skype, and email between the child or children and the deployed parent. The court will also require the deploying parent to provide reasonable notice to the other parent about his or her leave schedule and require the non-deploying parent to reasonably accommodate that leave during deployment.
- Grants the deploying parent the right to file a petition with the court which specifically identifies the service member as a parent about to deploy and requires the court to place the deploying service member’s petitions before other matters on the court’s docket.
- Allows the court to accommodate any deploying parent who is unable to appear in person due to pre-deployment training or actual deployment by allowing that parent to testify by telephone or Skype.