A recent revision to Pennsylvania’s custody and military affairs statutes has made it easier for deployed or deploying service men or women to address custody cases and assign their custody rights to family members.
Sen. Lisa Baker, a Pennsylvania state Senator representing portions of Luzerne, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne, and Wyoming Counties (Pa. 20th District) introduced the bill which was signed into law on April 12th.
The most important aspect of this revision occurs in military affairs statute (51 Pa.C.S.A. § 4109) which was expanded to allow a service-member who is on deployment or received notice of their deployment to petition the court for a temporary order assigning their custody rights to a family member. Previously, Section (a) of this statute prohibited any the entry of an Order modifying or amending a custody order that changes the custody arrangement of the child. While the prohibition against modifying custody while a service-member is on deployment remains in effect, by adding the ability to temporarily assign custody rights to family members, the Courts have the flexibility to issue reasonable orders which accommodate the service-member’s deployment.
The limits on the assignment of the custody rights are such that the family member can not have more custodial rights than those enjoyed by the service-member. The Court also retains a “best interest of the child” standard in determining whether assignment is appropriate, so there should not be an expectation that assignments will be rubberstamped by Court; the proposed family member must be an appropriate alternative during the parent’s deployment. Once the parent’s deployment is over the prior custody schedule is reinstated. It is also worth noting that the law excludes service-members such as reservists who periodically leave for training for less than thirty (30) consecutive “active duty” days.
This revision is a significant addition to the statute and should result in relatively swift determinations for the assignment of custody rights. For a service-member who is facing months away from their children, this bill will hopefully have the effect of quickly and satisfactorily resolving an important issue before they leave on their deployment.