Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law
Jacksonville, Florida is home to many military families and as a divorce lawyer and family law attorney in the area; I find it important to educate my clients on some nuances that may occur when dealing with children in a military. In dealing with military divorce or paternity cases, the common issues that arise are visitation and custody; now considered time-sharing in Florida.
In a military family, the one thing that members of the family become familiar with is the idea that where you live now may not be where you live in six months or six years. Adapting to change is a gift that many involved in the military have to succeed at. However, if the family divides, then how does that impact the family unit regarding visitation and custody issues?
Often, the question of who will have the majority time with the child (i.e.) custody arises in a divorce or paternity case. The court looks at what is in the best interest of the child in making that determination. The best interest of the child is somewhat subjective, but is based on numerous factors including the historical relationship of the child with each parent, the stability each parent provides (i.e. emotional, not just geographical), the relationship of the parents, the likelihood of each parent helping to facilitate a relationship with the child and the other parent, etc. In making these determinations, the court may consider the likelihood of issues of deployment and moving arising, but the court cannot rule against a member of the military strictly due to these factors. So, how does the court deal with deployment and relocation of military members?
First, in a divorce or paternity action, the parents may reach an agreement outside of the court that establishes the time-sharing plan. The time-sharing plan can also hold provisions regarding matters that may arise or need to be modified, such as deployment and relocation. A lot of factors can be considered by the parties in establishing a time-sharing plan that works for the child and for the parents. However, if that can be accomplished, then the court may look at the historical factors of the active-duty parent’s deployment and relocation. In so doing, the court may make provisions such as where the child should live during those times or how the time-sharing will be impacted if the military parent is relocated. These agreements do not necessarily bypass the Florida relocation statute, but they do lead to an understanding that a prior agreement was reached regarding these matters and that the agreement is part of the prior court order. Therefore, it may be submitted to the court for the change in time-sharing upon the relocation taking affect.
The focus on both parents should be what is in the best interest of the child. Then go from there regarding all factors involving time-sharing, deployment and relocation. Making the transitions easier on the parents also makes it is easier on the child, thus creating continuous stability regardless of geography.