Deployment is a fact of life for servicemembers. The member has little control over the timing or location, and in most cases, the spouse and children remain in the US. Until now, parents had few options to shape their child placement schedule in the event of deployment. However, a new Wisconsin statute provides greater flexibility.
Wisconsin Act 20 (2021) grants parents the right to make “contingent” placement agreements, which had previously been prohibited. The judge is now authorized to accept agreements to change legal custody or physical placement “upon the occurrence of a specified future event . . . that is reasonably certain to occur within 2 years of the date of the stipulation.”
Using this statute, military parents can avoid court motions and hearings by entering an agreement in anticipation of deployment that grants placement to the civilian parent upon deployment. The agreement can also state that placement will resume a certain schedule upon the member’s return.
There may be a question whether deployment/release is “reasonably certain to occur,” which is required by the statute. However, in my experience, judges will almost certainly take a broad view of this phrase if it prevents court filings and placement disputes. Therefore, provided that the parents have at least some idea of the likelihood or timing of deployment, I predict the agreement will be permitted.
Parents should think carefully about the schedule they wish to implement. For example, should there be specific opportunities for phone/video calls and if so, at what time? Depending on the location, there may be a significant time difference. Will the member get any leave, and should he/she have placement at that time? Perhaps the child could visit the military parent, depending on the nature of mobilization.
Judges always have authority to change or reject an agreement between parents. Therefore, the agreement should be clearly written and comply with the statute. Attorney David Kowalski routinely handles military divorces for both servicemembers and their spouses, and can assist with these agreements. Contact him at 608-709-5000 with any questions.