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Know the Laws: Washington

UPDATED August 10, 2017

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The effect of military deployment on custody/visitation

back to topIf the parent with primary parenting responsibility is in the military and gets deployed, what happens to that parent's custody or visitation?

If the parent with whom the child primary lives gets deployed or the military requires him/her to temporarily move a substantial distance away, the judge can issue a temporary custody order during that time period.  The temporary custody order will end no later than 10 days after the parent returns and provides notice to the child’s temporary custodian (caretaker).  However, if a parent/party files a motion that alleges that the child will be in immediate danger of being harmed if returned to his/her parent, the judge can hold an emergency hearing before the child is returned to that parent to decide where the child will live.  If there is no motion filed claiming that returning the child will cause harm to the child, the judge will grant a request to restore the previous residential schedule.*

* R.C.W. § 26.09.260(11)(a)

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back to topIf the parent with residential custody and/or visitation rights is in the military and gets deployed, what happens to that parent's custody or visitation?

If a parent receives military deployment orders that require him/her to move a substantial distance from his/her home or the military deployment orders would affect his/her ability to exercise parental or visitation rights, then the judge may be able to temporarily assign his/her custody and visitation rights to the child's family member (including a step-parent) or another person with a close relationship to the child.  The judge must also decide whether or not assigning residential time or visitation rights is in the child's best interest.  The judge cannot assign residential time or visitation rights to a person who would otherwise not be allowed to have those rights, such as a parent who committed child abuse.  For more information about in what situations a parent would not be able to get these temporary visitation or custody rights, see Can a parent who committed domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse get decision-making powers or parenting time?

Any assignment of custody or visitation rights during the deployed parent’s absence does not give the temporary custodian (caretaker) the right to file for a separate custody or visitation order.*

* R.C.W. § 26.09.260(12)

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back to topHow will a parent’s absence due to military duty be considered when making decisions about custody?

When making a decision about custody, the judge may not consider periods of time when a parent was deployed as time when that parent failed to exercise his/her right to residential time.*

Additionally, if a parent files a motion to transfer custody from the parent serving in the military to a non-military parent, the judge may not consider a parent’s temporary duty, activation, mobilization, or deployment (and the disruption to the child’s schedule because of a parent’s military duty) when determining if there has been a substantial change in circumstances.**

* R.C.W § 26.09.260(8)(b)
** R.C.W § 26.09.260(11)(b)

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WomensLaw.org would like to thank the Northwest Women's Law Center for their help with this material.

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