New Law Grants Custody Rights To Families of Servicemembers During Deployment
In April, the Pennsylvania Legislature enacted amendments to a law that grants custody rights to families of servicemembers during military deployments. The new law, which is published at 51 Pa.C.S. § 4109, authorizes our courts to temporarily transfer a servicemember’s custody rights to other members of the servicemember’s family during a deployment in support of a contingency operation. To transfer their custody rights, servicemembers must petition the court along with the family member to whom the custody rights will be transferred. The court may not expand the family member’s custody rights beyond those held by the servicemember; and when the servicemember returns from his or her deployment, the custody order that was in effect before the deployment shall be reinstated.
The new Act also authorizes an expedited custody hearing in which the servicemember may participate by telephone or video chat (Skype) in cases where the servicemember can demonstrate that he or she cannot appear in person at the hearing.
This law expands upon the prior law protecting servicemembers, which provided that no custody case could proceed to modify a prior custody order while the servicemember was deployed (except for temporary modifications); and that military service would not be held against the servicemember.
The new Act was effective on June 12, 2012.