Whether you are raising children with a spouse in the military, or you are the spouse in the military, it can involve many challenges for both the parents and the children. These issues multiply when the parents are separated, and communication may be strained.
The general parenting plan often does not include the issues that can face a military family. They are designed to provide consistency for the child(ren), under the assumption of no immediate residential changes or the extended inability of one parent to provide care for the children. Although these plans will work when the military parent is not required to travel/deploy, things can get messy when courses, deployments or relocations occur.
To best ensure all parties are on the same page when negotiating parenting plans for a military family, discussions should occur about the special circumstances that affect military families. Some examples of the items that should be considered are:
- Do the parties agree to have special parenting plans during any work-ups prior to a military parent sailing? The months preceding a sail often involve a number of smaller sails to prepare for the deployment. This may mean the military parent will not be able to maintain the regular parenting schedule, so some flexibility should be considered and discussed.
- What communication will occur between the parent and child while the military parent is deployed and or on course? This may include a plan on how to arrange telephone communication, the involvement of any video-conferencing, either arranged personally or through the local Military Family Resource Centre (MFRC), or email communication between the military parent and child.
- Will the child(ren) participate in any events organized for families of deployed military members? There are often special events organized by local MFRCs to bring together the families of the deployed members. Arrangements may need to be made in advance of the deployment if the separated spouse of the military member wishes to obtain notice of the events.
- Will the military parent have parenting time during their Home Leave Travel Assistance (HLTA) time? During longer deployments, the military parent will be granted a period of time wherein they can travel. This may be returning to their home or planning a trip to a different location. Discussions should occur over what, if any, parenting will occur over this period of time. It must also be discussed what amount of notice will be required in order to exercise this parenting time. It’s important to remember that HLTA time is never set in stone and may change with minimal notice to the military parent.
- Will the non-military parent assist the children in preparing care packages for the military spouse? At times the local MFRC advise of a mass mailing of packages for the deployed military members. Arrangements should be made in advance to ensure the separated spouse of the military member is made aware of these dates.
- What emergency care or respite care may be required while the military spouse is deployed? When the military spouse is deployed you truly become a single parent. It is not unusual for military families to have minimal extended family support in the area. When you truly do not have the other parent to rely on in emergencies or simply to take a quick “me” break, what plan will be in place? This may involve services offered through the local MFRC or a cost-sharing plan of any additional babysitting costs that may occur.
- Will there be special considerations for the splitting of holidays in instances when a military spouse is unable to exercise parenting on their designated year? For example, if a military parent misses their Christmas morning parenting due to deployment, will they need to wait two more years to celebrate Christmas morning with the child(ren), or will they have this parenting the following year?
- During deployment, what contact will the child(ren) have with extended family on the military parents’ side? Since the military parent will not be present to facilitate this contact between the child(ren) and their extended family members, the expectations of any such contact should be discussed.
- Will there be any special parenting to occur when the military spouse has returned from their deployment? Often the military parent will have extended leave following a deployment, thus having more free time to care for their child(ren). The parties should discuss their expectations of any special parenting time given such availability. It is important to note, however, that the best interests of the child should be at the forefront of these (and all) parenting discussions. A young child may be uncomfortable being in the care of a parent they have had minimal contact with for long periods of time (and be absent from a parent they have spent nearly 24/7 with during the deployment period).
In no way is this list of considerations meant to be exhaustive. Rather it provides a guideline of the various other circumstances that face military parents and the lawyers that may be representing them. As noted, the best interests of the child(ren) should be at the forefront of all these discussions. These absences are difficult on child(ren) in regular circumstances, let alone in circumstances when their parents are separated.
If you are interested in learning more about Parenting Plans in a Military Family, we have a skilled team of Family lawyers who would be happy to help.