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What Happens with Child Custody when a Parent is Deployed


When parents are deployed, custody and visitation arrangements may have to change. The law sets out some things to do when a parent is notified about a deployment. Deployment means movement of a service member for more than 90 days but less than 18 months where dependents are not allowed to accompany a service member.

A deployed parent must notify the other parent in writing, text or email not later than 7 days after receiving notice of the deployment. The parents can enter into a temporary agreement granting a parent or nonparent with custody or visitation rights. Any agreement must: 

  • be in writing
  • be signed by both parents and any nonparent who is getting custodial responsibilities
  • spell out the condition of the deployment
  • acknowledge that child support cannot be modified by the parties’ agreement alone
  • provide that the agreement will end according to the procedures set out in the code
  • be filed with the court if there is a current custody order.

The agreement also must specify:

  • who has caretaking responsibilities, during what period,
  • who has decision-making authority
  • any limited contact with a nonparent,
  • the frequency, duration and means by which the deploying parent will have contact with the child and any role the non-deploying parent has in setting up the contact, as well as who covers the costs
  • the contact the deploying parent has when available during the deployment
  • the process to resolve any dispute if a nonparent shares in custodial responsibilities.

The parents can ask the court to decide who will have caretaking authority while the deployed parent is away. The court can grant:

  • part of a deploying parent’s caretaking authority to a nonparent, but the grant is limited to the amount of time that the deploying parent usually spent with the child (if no court order) or was permitted under a court order
  • part of a deploying parent’s decision-making authority to a nonparent; the court must specify the scope of the authority

The nonparent must be a person with whom the child has a close and substantial relationship and does not have a history of domestic abuse and is not a sex offender.

Any court order is temporary and will terminate after the deploying parent returns from deployment.

Changing caretaking and decision-making when a parent is deployed can be complicated. Talk to a lawyer if you or the other parent is deployed.

Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 

To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:

  • Call 800-532-1275.
  • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161.
  • Apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.
Last Review and Update: May 11, 2020
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