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New PA Custody Law for Deployed Military Parents

Under the new amendments to the PA Custody Law set to take effect on June 12, 2012, the Court must now allow a deployed military service member to testify electronically and/or assign their rights to a family member.

By Attorney Nichole A. Collins, Military Custody Attorney, Harrisburg, PA

ACT NO. 2012-32 S.B. No. 1167 was approved on April 12, 2012 and Amends Title 23 (Domestic Relations) and Title 51 (Military Affairs).  The purpose of the amendments was to recognize the inability of military parents to actively participate in child custody proceedings that may occur during military deployment.  Among the amendments, are the use of electronic means to participate in child custody proceedings.  "Electronic means" is defined as "includes communication by telephone, video conference or the Internet."  My belief is that this will include testimony via Skype, telephone or closed circuit television or as individual courts may allow.  Also, there are provisions allowing the military service member to appoint a family member as their legal designee in the custody proceedings.

The amendments are set to take effect on June 12, 2012.  They provide as follows:

Temporary assignment to family members.--If an eligible servicemember has received notice of deployment in support of a contingency operation, a court may issue a temporary order to an eligible servicemember who has rights to a child under 23 Pa.C.S. ยง 5323 (relating to award of custody) or former 23 Pa.C.S. Ch. 53 Subch. A (relating to general provisions), including a temporary order to temporarily assign custody rights to family members of the servicemember. In the case of temporary assignment of rights to family members of the servicemember, the following shall apply: (1) The servicemember may petition the court for a temporary order to temporarily assign custody rights to family members of the servicemember. The servicemember shall be joined in the petition by the family members to whom the servicemember is seeking to assign temporary custody rights. The petition shall include a proposed revised custody schedule for care of the child by the family members. The proposed revised custody schedule may not include custody rights which exceed the rights granted to a servicemember set forth in the order in effect at the time of the filing of the petition to grant temporary custody rights to family members. (2) The court may issue a temporary order with a revised custody schedule as proposed by the servicemember and the family members or another revised custody schedule as the court deems appropriate, if the court finds that a temporary assignment of custody rights to family members of the servicemember is in the best interest of the child. In no case shall a temporary order granting custody rights to the family members of a servicemember exceed the custody rights granted to the servicemember set forth in the order in effect at the time of the filing of the petition to assign temporary custody rights to family members. In the case of any other temporary order issued under this subsection, the court may issue a temporary order if it is in the best interest of the child.

Electronic hearing.--Upon motion of an eligible servicemember who has received notice of deployment in support of a contingency operation, the court shall, upon reasonable advance notice and for good cause shown, allow the eligible servicemember to present testimony and evidence by electronic means in custody matters instituted under section 4109 when the military duties of the eligible servicemember have a material effect on the eligible servicemember's ability to appear in person at a regularly scheduled hearing.

If you are military servicemember actively deployed or you will become actively deployed soon, you should not let this deter you from protecting your custody rights.  You should contact an experienced lawyer immediately to protect your rights and advance the best interests of the child(ren).  You may contact Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today

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