Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act
Single parents serving in the military are extremely common. Often an issue arises when these parents are deployed. The courts have been historically limited in power when it comes to what orders they could issue if a parent with visitation or custodial rights of a minor child receives orders of deployment. Because divorce and custody decrees are usually silent as to custody with military personnel, litigation often ensued if a parent was deployed. In 2011, the Oklahoma legislature enacted the Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act (DPCVA) which gives powerful rights to military parents.
However, if a Decree of Divorce or Decree of Paternity already contains provisions in the event of deployment, those provisions generally must be followed. There is an important exception, however. If the court determines the previous orders are not in the best interest of the child, it may issue new orders regarding deployment. If the preexisting decree is silent as to deployment, the DPCVA applies and court action can be brought in the event that a parent anticipates being deployed.
Under the new law, a deploying parent can ask the court for a temporary child custody order delegating their visitation or custodial rights to another person. Orders under the DPCVA are temporary modifications of the prior permanent order of the court such as those orders contained in a joint custody plan, decree of divorce or decree of paternity.
A court can hear a case on a DPCVA petition extremely quickly. The law requires that if an expedited hearing is requested, it is heard within 10 days or if the deployment is sooner, the court must hear it before the member of the military deploys.
Orders under the Act are not permanent. The order is temporary in nature and ends 10 days after the deploying parent returns home. After the deploying parent returns, they must inform the non-deployed spouse of their return. At that time, the regularly ordered visitation and custody orders are once again in effect.
Who is Entitled to Custody or Visitation
The court may designate either a (1) family member or (2) a person with a close and substantial relationship with the child such as a caretaker, or teacher. Step-parents are statutorily preferred as the substitute for the military personnel’s child custody rights. The person the court designates has all the rights to visitation and custody that the deployed parent would have had.