Creating a Parenting Plan When You’re Deployed

Military father holds his young daughter

It’s never easy to leave your child for a length of time, but if you must depart because of military deployment, you face a unique set of challenges. You need to be prepared for every outcome — and that means creating a parenting plan.

A parenting plan is a comprehensive and fair document outlining the future care of your child. Crafting this plan requires a thorough understanding of the state-specific laws that govern deployment and custody (especially in the case of single parents), so you’ll want to seek help from a lawyer. If you are a single parent, you will need a lawyer’s help because, according to the Department of Defense, single parents cannot enlist in the Armed Forces. In order to enlist, you’ll need to transfer your custody rights to another person.

This post will walk you through the process of transferring custody and outline the most important things to consider when crafting a parenting plan. This can help prepare you and your child for your departure as thoroughly as possible.

How Transferring Custody Works

Transferring custody isn’t a decision to take lightly, and will require the help of a lawyer who is well-versed in state laws regarding custody. Enlisting in the Armed Forces as a single parent requires you to transfer custody to another person. You might choose your co-parent, your child’s grandparent, or another close friend or relative. You should note that the two latter options may require your ex-spouse’s consent. This transferring of custody will be a permanent arrangement that will require further legal action upon your return home if you wish to revert or change this decision.

There is a chance that complications can arise during the process of restoring custody. The new custodial parent might choose to defend their new status, or your child might prefer to remain with their guardian. The court might also grant joint custody to the other party, even if you previously had sole custody of your child.

Once you have transferred custody, the next step is to outline everything that your child’s new custodial parent will need to know. This step is where a parenting plan comes into play.

What to Include in Your Plan

Your parenting plan should cover everything necessary for your child’s well-being. The plan includes practical information (like their medications, allergies, and food preferences), as well as a more detailed description of their weekly routines, chores, spending allowances, leisure activities, and house rules. This parenting plan should be accompanied by an outline of your expectations for child care — do they need babysitting or do they attend daycare? Also included, is expectations for transportation to and from their various activities and appointments.

You’ll also want to include the contact information for their friends and family members, school, tutors, babysitter, and health care providers in this plan, along with any important legal documents like their birth certificate, health card, a current copy of your will, and life insurance details.

It’s also up to your discretion when and how you share these details with your child and in accordance with what you believe is age-appropriate. By reassuring them that their routines will still be in place and by preparing them for any disruptions, this guidance can go a long way toward helping them establish a sense of comfort and security.

Other Things to Consider

When and how you explain your deployment to your child may also impact their feelings about the situation. It is advised that you tell them sooner rather than later but use your best judgment. If you wait until the last possible moment, it may seem like you were hiding this information from your child, which could breed distrust and fear. You and your former spouse should sit down together with your child in a comfortable setting and be as open and honest as is appropriate for your child’s age. Reassure them of your love for them as often as you can, and make sure they know they’ll be in a safe and loving home even with you gone.

Some details might be better to share with your child over others. For very young children, explaining that you’re going on a long trip can be enough, but older children may expect a more concrete timeline or explanation. In either case, your child may find solace in learning where in the world you’re going and by seeing it on a map. Focus on how you’ll be helping people — will you be improving infrastructure, training new police officers, or building schools and hospitals? Or will you be providing humanitarian aid to people lacking sanitation, food, and water?

Determining how you’ll stay in touch may also help to alleviate any anxiety your child is having about your departure. Whether you want to set a schedule for video calls, emails, or letters is up to you; and sticking to that plan might greatly benefit your child’s mental state. Routines matter and they create the security and stability your child may feel they are lacking when you’re away.

Plan Ahead

Take the time to speak with a lawyer at Father’s Rights Law Center about how you can prepare for your deployment. The more prepared you are, the easier the transition. And with plenty of open communication and honesty, it is possible to ensure your time away goes smoothly for everyone involved.

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