If you are a servicemember then you have likely been reassigned to a new station at least once. This change in “home base” often times comes with a change in pay as well. Military pay is based on the rank that you have earned and comes with a small allowance for housing and food as well.
It would be rare for your pay to be decreased, but I have seen even small increases go towards a modification in child support. In this situation, you can actually be taken to court if your child’s other parent believes that the increase in pay you have received justifies an increase in your monthly child support obligation.
While your pay may not decrease, the allowance for housing, utilities, and other necessities may decrease. Taken together your overall income may see a slight decrease on a monthly basis. Taken over the course of a year this puts a strain on your ability to pay your child support obligation moving forward. With this type of scenario in mind, you may actually have to be the party to file the modification request to get the obligation decreased. Couple these factors with a move that may take you to a location with a higher cost of living and you will need to be aware of what your rights are in terms of the legal system in Texas.
Specific challenges associated with deployment
Thus far we have been discussing the challenges that face you as a servicemember when you are ordered to pick up and move your life across the state or across the country. What happens if you have been deployed across the globe? With conflicts ongoing across the world, hundreds of thousands of servicemembers have been deployed to those locations. If you are a parent this deployment can be especially difficult.
Changes in pay, separation of parents and children, and the difficulties associated with making scheduled court appearances are all problems that arise when your station is changed here in the United States. All of these factors come into play when you are deployed as well. While deployment is only a temporary change in your life but the notice with which you are provided prior to a move can be extremely short. This leaves you little time to prepare for the move and to be able to take steps to prepare.
If you have child support or child custody issues that need to be sorted out prior to your move it is essential that you not only understand what the issues are but are able to act on that knowledge to your and your child’s betterment. Having money saved for an attorney and then having a game-plan to file a case and then proceed to court is essential as well. You do not have time to waste prior to deployment.
Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act
When you are living abroad you will not be able to attend court hearings. This is among the more obvious statements that you will read today. As a result, you are at a disadvantage when it comes to being able to have your issues addressed by a court.
Fortunately, there are protections for active duty servicemembers like yourself. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is a law that protects persons like yourself who are actively serving in the military. The SCRA protects you against default judgments- meaning that a judgment cannot be taken against you solely for the failure to respond to a lawsuit or your failure to appear in court on a scheduled date.
Prior to your leaving the country, a Family Care Plan should have been made available to you via any previous court order that you had created. This plan will outline what will happen to your visitation and possession time with your children while you are living abroad or otherwise unable to take advantage of your periods of possession.
Your child’s other parent must be willing to work with you on this plan because it will likely conflict with a standard possession order. Weekend visitation every other week will not suffice for you and when you are back in the States you will likely want to take advantage of as much time as you can with your kids. Often times you are not given advance warning of when you will be able to return to the United States so you are able to provide even less advance warning to your child’s other parent.
If you are the custodial parent of a child (meaning that your child lives with you primarily and has visitation with their other parent) you may find yourself in a tough position when you return to the United States after being deployed. These difficulties are associated with your relatives have taken a bigger role in caring for your child on a daily basis in your absence.
Due to your time away your child may have grown accustomed to living with relatives. Your time away may have also increased your levels of stress to the point where you find yourself unable to parent as you normally would.
Slow moving courts make life difficult for active duty servicemembers
As we touched on earlier in this blog post, it is essential for you to resolve any issues related to child support or child custody prior to your being deployed.
Unfortunately, our legal system is not known for its quickness or efficiency in dealing with family law cases. If your case is complex then this goes double for you and your situation. Despite the challenges associated with time, it is always best to sort these issues out prior to your going abroad. Your readiness as a servicemember is essential to a successful mission for you and your team.
If you are a military parent who is in a situation where you need to establish paternity of your child (either for yourself or your child’s other parent) then you will also want to have this handled efficiently. If you and your child’s other parent were never married then your child will not have a legal father until one is established through the courts. Health insurance benefits, death benefits, and survivor benefits are not available to a child through their deceased father until he is legally declared as such.
An Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) is the most straightforward and common way for unmarried fathers to have themselves be declared as the legal father of a child. You do so voluntarily under these circumstances and can even sign the form before your child is born. This is not something that many parents know, however, and even if you did know how to access the form and where to submit it once complete is another matter altogether.
A note on those persons in the Military Reserves
On top of active duty servicemembers and veterans, a high percentage of those in the military are also members of various reserve units. As members of the National Guard, when your unit is activated you will leave your normal job and receive payment for your service through the government.
This causes problems if you are responsible for child support payments. You must take the step to contact the Office of The Attorney General (OAG) in Texas and let them know about your change in payor. Your wages must be garnished to ensure that no missed child support payments occur. If you fail to do so you will accrue missed payments that can cause you to fall behind in your payment history.
Stress, Unemployment and the general concerns of military families- tomorrow’s blog post topics
If you are a member of the armed services of our country we invite you to return to our website tomorrow to read more about the challenges that military families face in conjunction with their service and their various family law situations. By reading our series of blog posts on military families we hope that you will have learned something that can be beneficial to your life.
In the meantime, if you have questions about family law in Texas please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. We offer free of charge consultations with licensed family law attorneys six days a week. If you cannot meet with us in person we offer consultations via phone and Skype.