How to Relinquish Custody for the Purpose of Military Enlistment

By Brenna Davis

Side view of a young man wearing a military uniform holding a boy

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Military enlistment and the possibility of deployment can radically alter family relationships. If you are facing the possibility of deployment after enlisting in the military, you may need to temporarily relinquish custody of your child, and discussing custody arrangements with the child's temporary guardian or other parent prior to deployment can make the process easier. If your relationship with the child's other parent is strained, you may wish to consult a family lawyer with experience in military law.

Talk to your child's other parent about giving her temporary custody. If your child's other parent is willing to take on the responsibility of caring for the child and is a competent caregiver, most states will require you to give her the opportunity to take custody. If the other parent is not available, a family member or close friend who has a good relationship with the child may be a good choice. Discuss guardianship with the potential guardian; you will need this person's consent to relinquish custody to him.

File a motion to change custody and consent order signed by both parents. A motion is a request for a change, and a consent order is an agreement signed by both parties that is then signed by a judge. Most states have forms on their websites. You can also obtain a form from the court clerk. Most states require that a parenting plan -- also available from the court clerk -- is attached to changes of custody. However, because you will be relinquishing custody completely, you do not need to fill out the section on visitation. Simply note on the parenting plan that the other parent will have sole custody during your enlistment. The consent order and motion should make it explicitly clear that the custodial change is temporary. If you know how long you will be deployed, the change should last for that period of time. If you are unsure, include language such as, "Temporary custody change will last until such time as parent is released from deployment."

Complete a consent order granting temporary guardianship to your child's proposed guardian if the other parent is not available. The guardian must also file a motion requesting temporary guardianship. File the consent order and motion with the clerk of court in the county where your child resides. If you are not appointing the other parent as guardian because the parent is unfit, you must serve the other parent with the guardianship request. In most states, the court clerk will have the sheriff serve these papers for you if you complete a service form. In some states, however, you must serve them yourself, either by hiring a process server or mailing the paperwork via certified mail, return receipt requested.

Establish support for your child while you are deployed. If you appoint a guardian, you should set up a way to pay the child's expenses, such as through a trust, by paying child support or sending a certain amount of money home each month. If you are relinquishing custody to the child's other parent, you will likely have to pay child support according to your state's child support guidelines.


If the other parent does not wish to take custody of your child, you must obtain her written permission to appoint the guardian you have chosen.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act allows military members to stay lawsuits, such as custody proceedings, during a deployment. If you are currently involved in a custody dispute, you may invoke this act to prevent the loss of custody while you are deployed.


Some parents have difficulty regaining custody of their children after enlistment or deployment, particularly if the deployment is very long. Consulting an attorney can help to protect you against permanent loss of custody.