The Assembly Judiciary Committee on Monday recommended passage of a bill that would protect the custody and visitation rights of parents facing long-term military deployment.
The bill, S-1051, backed by the judiciary and the New Jersey State Bar Association, passed the full Senate in June in a 39-0 vote.
It provides that a judge may not consider any prolonged absence or potential absence of a military service member as a factor in determining the best interest of a child when making a determination concerning child custody or parenting time.
Prolonged absences mean those of 30 or more days based on deployments for combat or other operations, training duty, attendance at a military service school or service-related treatments due to an injury, illness or other health condition.
Additionally, the judge must, to the extent possible, expedite the ruling on an application by a member of the military, or the other parent or caretaker for a child, concerning a child-custody or parenting-time arrangement in any case in which there is no existing child-custody or parenting-time order and the service member has received official written notice of deployment or service-related assignment.
Whenever a person in the armed services is a party to an existing child-custody or parenting-time arrangement and has received an official written notice of deployment or service-related treatment, the service member would have to notify the other parent or caretaker involved in the arrangement of the deployment or treatment location and scheduled dates no later than the day immediately preceding departure or the tenth day after receipt of official orders, whichever date occurs first, unless notice to the other parent or caretaker is prohibited by the military. The service member must also provide timely information, if not prohibited by the military, regarding his or her scheduled leave or other availability during the period of deployment or treatment.
The other parent or caretaker would be required to make the child reasonably available to the service member while he or she is on leave or is otherwise available and make possible opportunities for communication, including telephone and email contact between the service member and the child during the period of the deployment or treatment.
The legislation would prohibit a judge from modifying any existing agreement or judgment during the deployment or treatment period except if the judge determines any change to be in the best interests of the child. The court may appoint a guardian ad litem, an attorney, or both to represent the child’s interests with regard to any pending court determination.
After a service member’s deployment or treatment ends, the child-custody or parenting-time order in effect prior to his or her departure would resume, but would not be subject to modification for 90 days following the day the deployment or treatment ended. This provision would apply to any change that is being considered to preserve the health, safety, and welfare of the child.
Nothing in the bill, sponsored by Sens. Christopher Connors, R-Ocean, and James Beach, D-Camden, would prevent a service member parent or caretaker and the other parent or caretaker from agreeing to a care arrangement for a child during the period of a service member’s deployment or service-related treatment.