Deployed during your parenting plan case: Your rights in Washington State

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project

Read this if you are a parent of minor children AND serving in the armed forces AND in a court case over parenting plan issues. You should be aware of some laws passed for your benefit in 2009. #3233EN

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Yes, if all of these are true:

  • You have children who are under age 18
  • You are serving in the armed forces, and you are about to be deployed
  • You have filed or received papers in (you are a party to) a Washington State Superior Court divorce with parenting plan issues, or a Petition to Change Parenting plan case

You will learn about legal protections you may have in your situation.

Probably.

In a divorce or petition to change parenting plan case, you have the right to have a hearing scheduled quickly (called having an expedited hearing) if your deployment is going to keep you from showing up in person for court later.

You have the right under a federal law called the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to delay the hearing. Visit their website to learn more.

Yes.

If your deployment is going to keep you from showing up in person for a hearing in your divorce or Petition to Change Parenting Plan case, you have the right to testify and give the court evidence by phone, video conference, or online.

No, if that is the only reason the court would do so.

If you haven’t seen your children in a long time, and there is no good reason for that, a court can change your parenting plan to give you less rights to the children.

However, in a Petition to Change Parenting Plan case, your deployment is a good reason for not seeing your children. In this type of case, a court cannot hold against you case any periods that you were deployed.

Maybe. The law lets you give (delegate) your time with your child to a relative of your choice, if it is in the child’s best interests.

Choose your “delegate” wisely. The other parent in your Petition to Change Parenting Plan case could ask the court to limit your delegate’s time the same as they could yours as the parent.

For example, if you have unsupervised visitation with your child, you should not choose as your delegate a relative who has a conviction for a child sex offense, or child abuse.

Read Divorce and Other Options for Ending Your Marriage with Children in Washington State to learn more about why a court might limit your or your delegate’s time with the children. The information there applies to all type of parenting plan cases.

No.

You should not have to go to court. The other parent should give the child back to you within 10 days of your return from duty.

The other parent might have filed or be planning to file a request to keep the child. You might not have received (been served with) a copy of any court papers yet.

Call the clerk of the court where your case is filed. Ask if the other parent has filed anything recently. Depending on your type of case and your situation, the other parent might have filed a motion, or a Petition to Change Parenting Plan.

If the other parent has filed something

Ask the clerk for a copy of what the other parent filed and try to talk to a lawyer right away. See contact info below.

If the other parent hasn’t filed anything

You should write the other parent a letter.

The letter should:

  • State that the other parent is not following your parenting plan now that you are home.
  • Ask that they follow your parent plan and return the child to you.
  • Give the other parent a deadline by which to do this.

Make a copy of your letter. You can send it by certified mail or hand-deliver it with a witness there.

If the other parent still doesn’t return the child to you after by the deadline you gave them, you should think about filing for contempt.

Read Contempt of Court: When the other person in your case won’t follow a court order to learn more. Our File a Motion for Contempt: Family Law Cases packet has forms and instructions.

You should also try to talk to a lawyer about other options you might have.

You can get the forms you need on the Courts' website:

For individual legal help, visit U.S. Armed Forces Legal Assistance. This website will help you locate a family law attorney who specializes in military issues.

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Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

Last Review and Update: Oct 31, 2022
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