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What are the rights of military parents in Washington family law cases?

Understanding the Rights of Military Parents in Washington Family Law Cases

When it comes to family law, military parents face unique challenges. Washington State acknowledges these difficulties and has made provisions in its laws to afford certain protections to parents serving in the military. This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the rights of military parents in the context of Washington family law, including custody and visitation matters.

Custody and Visitation Rights

One of the fundamental concerns for military parents is what happens to child custody arrangements during deployment. Under Washington law, temporary modifications can be made to custody orders. These modifications are not permanent and revert back once the deployed parent returns. For example, a deploying parent can request a temporary change that allows extended family members to take over visitation rights in their absence.

Washington's family law also permits the creation of a 'Family Care Plan,' which outlines care for a child during a parent's absence due to military service. This plan provides stability for the child and ensures that their needs are met while respecting the parental rights of the service member.

Protection from Default Judgments

Military parents are protected from default judgments in their absence through the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). If a service member cannot attend court proceedings because they are on duty, they can request a stay on the proceedings. Additionally, if a default judgment is entered against a service member when they were unable to defend themselves due to service obligations, they have the right to reopen the case.

The Impact of Deployment on Custody Decisions

When determining custody arrangements, being in the military should not be held against a parent. Washington courts cannot consider deployment as a sole factor in making permanent parenting plan decisions. Instead, courts take into account the best interests of the child and all other relevant factors.

Ensuring Communication Between Deployed Parents and Children

Washington family law emphasizes maintaining the parent-child relationship during a parent's deployment. Courts can order electronic communication such as video calls or emails between the deployed parent and child. This ensures that despite physical distance, emotional bonds remain strong.


Military parents have several legal protections in Washington State designed to ensure that their service does not unfairly prejudice their parental rights or relationships with their children. These protections help manage family law issues such as custody and visitation during deployment, protect against default judgments, and maintain important family relationships.