Earlier blogs discussed options to manage legal custody and physical placement during a servicemember’s deployment. If one parent is unavailable, legal custody and placement are left to the other parent, by default. Therefore, if a parent is deployed, the children must remain with the civilian parent unless he/she is unfit. But what is the option if both parents are in the military and could be deployed at the same time? Or if there is only one surviving parent? Luckily, Wisconsin’s guardianship law recently changed to permit two options.
First, if no parent is available for care, the parents should file a full guardianship, naming a non-parent. The guardian is usually a grandparent, uncle, aunt, but can be anyone nominated by a parent. Guardianship grants a non-parent the right to make decisions for the child and to have “care and custody.” The guardian thus has the authority to enroll the child in school, get medical care, etc., actions that are necessary in the absence of a parent. The guardian’s authority can be as broad or limited as the parents wish. The guardian can also be granted authority to arrange visitation with other family members to maintain the child’s close relationships and limit disruption due to deployment. If the parents agree on the guardian, it will almost certainly be accepted by the judge, and the process is rather quick and simple.
Second, a parent may wish to nominate a temporary guardian. This type of guardianship is granted for 180 days, with the possibility to extend an additional 180 days. This type could be effective if the military parent knows that he/she will only be unavailable for six months or less. The benefit of this guardianship is that it allows for care and custody of the child during a parent’s absence, but automatically terminates after six months.
Third, a parent can propose an emergency guardianship. This type is limited to 60 days, and the guardian’s authority must be reasonably related to what is needed for the child’s immediate care and safety. This type of guardianship should be avoided, since it is very limited and short duration. However, in instances of sudden and immediate mobilization, it may not be possible to locate a more permanent guardian. An emergency guardianship could be filed to last a short time while the permanent guardian makes necessary arrangements to file another petition.
All of the above require planning. The best option is to consider who should be appointed, and perhaps have the necessary documents completed and ready in case the need arises quickly. Attorney David Kowalski routinely handles military divorces for both servicemembers and their spouses. Contact him at 608-709-5000 with any questions.