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How can SCRA affect a child custody case?

Let's take a closer look at an issue related to a point from our last Dallas family law blog post. We mentioned that a service member's family may have visitation with his or her children during a period of active deployment. This, of course, is an important consideration and a fairly recent development under Texas law.

But there are other questions related to child custody that may arise within the context of a military divorce and an active deployment. A common fear among servicemen and servicewomen is that a former spouse will attempt to pursue changes to a child custody arrangement during a deployment overseas, or even out of state. What if an active service member misses a scheduled court date because of a deployment?

There is a federal law which protects active service members in this situation. It applies to any of the following when called to active duty:

  • Regular armed forces members
  • National Guard
  • Reserves
  • Coast Guard

The law in question is called the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

The protection provided by SCRA is essentially simple: it allows any of the above on active duty to postpone, or "stay," administrative or court proceedings, including child custody hearings. A written request under SCRA will provide an automatic 90-day stay. Additional time may be requested, but is subject to the judge or other presiding official's discretion.

There are limitations to SCRA, however. One's military service must materially affect one's ability to appear at a hearing. And SCRA cannot be used to postpone criminal proceedings. This information is general in nature only and not intended as legal advice, but military service members with questions about whether SCRA can help them -- or how to exercise their rights under SCRA -- may wish to consult a legal professional.

Source: Military OneSource, "Child Custody Considerations for Members of the Military," accessed on Sept. 4, 2015

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