In a military divorce involving children, parenting time is a major consideration and should involve a parenting plan.

By Kristin R.H. Kirkner, BCS

A divorce involving a military family is different from a civilian family because we need to account for frequent moves, or a permanent change of station (PCS).  Just because a spouse knew that PCS’s were a part of the package when getting married doesn’t mean that the spouse is going to be accommodating in a divorce! It is helpful to anticipate and plan for a PCS when structuring a timesharing plan.

In Florida, the courts use the terms time-sharing or parenting plan instead of custody or visitation like the courts in some other states use.  Parenting time is separate from “parental responsibility”, which basically means decision making for the child.  Although I am only discussing timesharing in this entry, a Parenting Plan will address the division of both parental responsibility and timesharing between the parents.

When structuring a time-sharing plan, you need to first consider the viability and cost of the timesharing when taking into consideration the distance between the parents’ homes.  For example, it is a nice idea to have a parenting plan that allows for alternate weekends, but if one party lives in Florida and the other lives in California, alternate weekends aren’t going to work because most families do not have the funds to fly children across the country multiple times each month, and it is probably not in the children’s best interests to spend the majority of their weekends traveling.

One option that I find works for families where frequent PCS’s occur, and where the children will reside with the non-service member parent, is to set out several different time-sharing plans based on the distance between the parties’ homes.  For example, we would have one timesharing plan that applied if the parties lived in the same city, another for if the parties live in the same state and yet another if the parties live in the same country.  This takes time, patience and a lot of work on the front end to work through these different scenarios, but the goal is to keep the family out of court in the future and to create a parenting plan that will work for the family in the long run.

If the child is going to reside with the service member parent, it is helpful to have a clause that allows for free relocation.  In Florida, the statute provides that a parent can not relocate more than 50 miles away from their residence at the time the prior Order was entered without a court order or the consent of the other parent. There is nothing more stressful than trying to PCS and having to worry about whether your child will be coming with you to the next duty station!  A free relocation clause is invaluable if one can be negotiated, as it will prevent future litigation and a lot of heartache.  I will discuss relocation in a future blog, as relocation is a huge subject in itself, it merits mention here because it tends to disproportionately affect military families.

It is critical to hire an attorney who specifically handles military divorces and who understands both the cycle and nature of a PCS.  As a military spouse, I am in a unique position to understand the difficulty and impact that a PCS can have on the family and to help you develop a parenting plan that will meet your needs.    If you are considering a military divorce, or if you have a parenting plan that just isn’t working for your family, please fill out the form below or call my office to schedule a consultation.

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