What can I do to ensure my timesharing is protected while I am deployed?
Count ordered timesharing can be disrupted due to military service. Many Final Judgments fail to provide for alternative timesharing if a member of the military is activated or deployed. It would be wrong for a member of the military to lose their timesharing because of their military service. Sometimes the other parent sees an opportunity to limit timesharing when a parent is deployed or activated. Fortunately, Florida Statute 61.13002 provides some relief.
F.S. 61.13002 (1) states in part, “the court may not issue an order or modify or amend a previous judgment or order that changes time-sharing as it existed on the date the parent was activated, deployed, or temporarily assigned to military service,…” This is strong language that a deployed servicemember can use to prevent a permanent modification of the existing timesharing. This is important because if a new Final Judgment is entered by the Court, that Final Judgment can be changed only by a showing of a substantial and permanent change in circumstances. In other words, if a servicemember is deployed and their timesharing is reduced by Court Order, it can be very difficult to get their timesharing restored even when the deployment ends.
A servicemember who is activated or deployed can also use F.S. 61.13002 (1) to file their own Petition to Temporarily Modify Timesharing. The servicemember can ask the court to structure a Temporary Timesharing Order so the parent can have a maximum amount of timesharing and contact with the child. The statute specifically provides that the court shall permit, “liberal time-sharing during periods of leave from military service,”. This means that when the temporarily deployed servicemember has leave for a week or a month they should be entitled to spend a maximum amount of time with the child. F.S. 61.13002 (1) also provides that the court order contact by webcam, telephone and other means.
The intent of the statute is that the parent-child relationship remain strong even when a servicemember is deployed for long and/or repeated periods of time. Long deployments are difficult even for intact families. Where parents are no longer together long deployments are a particular concern. Legislatures cannot fix all problems but with this statute the Florida legislature made a thoughtful effort.
Florida Statute 61.13002 (2) makes unique provisions for timesharing by a non-parent. Recognizing that if a servicemember parent cannot exercise timesharing, timesharing by a family member, stepparent or other relative may be in a child’s best interest. The statute provides that if a parent is to be deployed or activated in excess of 90 days that parent can designate a relative to exercise time-sharing with the child on the parent’s behalf. Children often bond not only with a parent but with the extended family. In large families, children grow up surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. When a parent is deployed continuing contact with the family can be essential to a child’s wellbeing. F.S. 61.13002 (2) may be unconstitutional under the Florida Constitution’s right to privacy clause.
The statute also provides in F.S. 61.13002 (5), that the court permit the servicemember to testify via phone, webcam, affidavit or other means. This can be of tremendous help for the currently deployed servicemember. It is unusual for a court to allow testimony by electronic means and extremely rare for a court to accept an affidavit as evidence in a family law case. An attorney cannot cross examine an affidavit. However, if a parent can show good cause, the court will accept an affidavit.
This section only applies to temporary deployments or assignments. A permanent change of station must be addressed under the relocation statute, F.S. 61.13001. Florida Statute 61.13001 is not particularly friendly so a servicemember may want to argue any change in their duties as temporary and not permanent.
If you have family law issues that involve military service you should contact the experienced, aggressive family lawyers at Mario, Gunde, Peters, Rhoden & Kelley, LLC. We have been serving Brevard County and litigating military issues since 1976. Call today for a free consultation. 321-631-0506