Why and When a Family Care Plan is Required
At the conclusion of divorce proceedings involving spouses with minor children, courts typically enter an order outlining custody and visitation rights. Many states refer to this as a parenting plan. The parenting plan outlines both physical and legal custody provisions, including the times when the child will reside with each parent and how major decisions regarding the child shall be handled.
Many service members who have children will also be required to prepare another document called a family care plan. While a parenting plan is a court-approved document that broadly outlines custody and visitation arrangements, a family care plan is document or set of documents required to be prepared by every military branch. Courts are not involved in reviewing or approving family care plans.
Family care plans, unlike typical parenting plans, must include very detailed information about how children or dependent adults will be cared for if the military member becomes unavailable due to training, temporary duty or deployment. The plan is usually kept on file by a commanding officer.
Generally, a plan is required for a service member who is single and has sole custody of children under the age of 19, or who has joint custody with the other parent but is not married to the other parent. Single service members who are pregnant must also prepare a plan.
Family care plans are also required if both parents serve in the military and have custody of children under 19. Plans are required from service members who are sole caregivers for either a child under 19 or an adult family member who cannot provide for his or her own care, such as a disabled spouse or relative.
Spouses married to service members might also want to prepare a plan. This can be of great assistance if the non-military spouse becomes disabled or ill for an extended period while the military spouse is unavailable.
Some military branches, such as the Army, require specific checklists and forms to be completed that outline the plan in detail. Other branches may simply require forms to be completed that state the service member has provided certain information to a selected caregiver. While the specific information required by each branch differs, the basic details you should include in a family care plan for children are similar.
Caretaker information. In general, the plan must include information about how children will be cared for if the service member must be absent for a short period of 4-6 weeks for training or education, and for long-term absences such as deployments. The requirements often differ depending on whether the absence may be short or long-term.
For example, for short-term absences, the selected caregiver must usually reside in the local area, while for long-term absences, the designated caregiver may live further away or in another state. Designated caregivers must be civilians who are at least 21 years of age. Alternate caregivers should be named in case the primary caregiver is unable to fulfill that responsibility. Caregivers are usually required to sign the plan.
Information should be provided about how the child will be transferred from a short-term to a long-term caregiver should that become necessary. This may require details as specific as how transportation costs will be covered.
The plan should also name the person who will assume custody of the child in the event of the service member's death. Normally, the surviving legal parent would automatically get custody. If the other parent should not have custody for some legal reason, such as past abuse, the reason should be clearly stated and an alternate custodian named. You should also designate a guardian for your children in your will. The plan must include contact information for the other parent, and include written consent of that parent if that parent is not named as a caregiver.
Financial information. The plan should include details of where funds are located to care for the child. A power of attorney is usually required, giving the proposed caretaker or another person the ability to access and manage funds.
Documents. Identify the location of important documents including birth certificates, wills, your living will or health care directive, dependent ID cards, commissary cards, vaccination records, insurance documents, and powers of attorney. Ensure that your dependent child's ID card is current and will not expire during an extended absence.
Contacts. Include contact information for important persons in the child's life such as relatives, friends, neighbors and teachers. List military and community resources and contact information for your military unit.
Medical Information. Include names of doctors and dentists and details of any medical conditions, allergies, prescriptions, or vitamins used on a frequent basis. Outline any appointments that are scheduled on a regular basis.
Activities and routines. Provide a general outline of the child's typical daily schedule and common routines. This could take the form of a daily calendar, including start and end times for school days, and a list of after-school activities, typical household chores, bedtimes and details on religious involvement. The goal is to give the caretaker a clear picture of your child's daily life.
Using military facilities. Since your caretaker will be a civilian who may not be familiar with military life, provide detailed information about how to use services available on base, including the commissary and military treatment facilities. Caregivers can enter a military facility if they have power of attorney and the child's ID card.
The general rule is to make the family care plan as detailed as possible. Ideally, the intended caretaker should spend time with you and your children before the need arises to actually provide care. This allows the child and proposed caretaker to become familiar with each other and for the caregiver to see how some typical routines or activities are handled.
Family care plans must be kept up to date. The plan should be reviewed at least annually. You should also reaffirm that your chosen caregiver is remains willing to undertake that responsibility if needed.
Serving in the military provides added challenges for parents who may be unable to be with their child for weeks or months at a time due to training, transfer or deployment. The loss of frequent contact with a parent is also stressful for a child. Preparing a detailed family care plan will help to reduce stress for both parent and child ensure a smooth transition to a temporary caregiver should the need arise. If you have any questions concerning a military divorce, call the Law the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen at 201-845-7400 for a free initial consultation.