Children of Military Couples and Military Single Parents

Military Family Care Plans

woman in military uniform with children
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What happens to children of single-parent military members, or the children of dual-couple military members when they are deployed?

Military members who are single parents and dual-military couples may need to ask family and friends to be guardians or take on dual custody of their children if both parents are deployed at the same time.

About 8% of all military members are single parents -- 11% for the Army, 8% for the Navy, 5% for the Air Force, and 5% for the Marine Corps. Additionally, there are about 84,000 military-married-to-military couples. About 36,000 of those couples have children.

Rules Enforced After Gulf War One

When the services got orders from the President to begin deploying active-duty military members to the Gulf for DESERT SHIELD and activating National Guard and Reserve members, they got an unexpected surprise -- hundreds of single-parents and dual-military couples with children were not ready to go. They had no plans for the care of their children. This caused a lot of rescheduling and juggling of deployment plans.

As a result, the Department of Defense (DOD) got tough. In July of 1992, DOD published DOD Instruction 1342.19, Family Care Plans, to standardize the requirements for all of the military services. Additionally, the military services stopped accepting single-parents for enlistment in the military.

Child Care Benefits

Most military bases have a variety of full-time or hourly daycare centers for military working parents. The benefit is access, as they are near work typically and offer needs-based pricing. The costs of these are based on a family's total income, not just the service member's paygrade. In the event that the military base (or are not stationed near a large base), the military will help fund the costs of civilian operated daycare for children at daycare programs that are part of the local military network 

Single Parents and Military Couples with Children

While the military no longer allows single parents to enlist, if one becomes a single parent while in the military, due to death of a spouse, separation, divorce, or adoption, or if a military couple has children, the military will not force them to separate from the service, as long as they meet the family care requirements of DOD and the various related service regulations. In a nutshell, that means such members must have a "family care plan."

Family Care Plans

While there are some minor administrative differences in each of the services, family care plans have three basic requirements: short-term care providers, long-term care providers, and care provision details.

Short-Term Care Provider. Single-parents and military couples with children must designate a non-military person who will agree, in writing, to accept care of the member's children at any time, 24 hours per day, seven days per week, in the event the military member is called to duty or deployed with no-notice. While this person cannot be another military member, the person can be a military spouse. The short-term care provider must live in the local area where the military member(s) are stationed/located. The short-term care provider must sign the family care plan, indicating that they understand the responsibilities that are being entrusted to them.

Long-Term Care Provider. In addition to the short-term care provider, the military member(s) must also designate a non-military person, who will agree, in writing, to provide long-term care for their children in the event the military member(s) are deployed for a significant period, or in the event they are selected for an unaccompanied overseas tour, or are assigned to a ship at sea. The long-term care provider does not have to live in the local area, but the family care plan must contain provisions to transfer the child(ren) from the short-term care provider to the long-term care provider (finances, airline tickets, etc.), in the event a no-notice deployment turns into a long-term deployment. The long-term care provider must sign the family care plan, indicating that they understand the responsibilities that are being entrusted to them.

Care Provision Details. In addition to designating short-term and long-term care providers, the family care plan must include detailed plans for the care and support of the children. Family care plans must include provisions for the logistical movements of the family or caregiver. Logistical arrangements include, but are not limited to, arrangements to relocate, if necessary, the caregiver or family to a new location, financial, medical, and legal support necessary to ensure continuity of care and support of family members during the movement. Logistical arrangements must provide for the financial support necessary to transport the family or caregiver to a designated location. The military member(s) must also give consideration of a non-military escort for family members requiring assistance such as infants, children, elderly and disabled adults should be outlined when personal family considerations dictate.

Family care plans must also include arrangements for the financial well-being of family members covered by the family care plan during short- and long-term separations. Arrangements for financial care should include power(s) of attorney, allotments, or other appropriate means to ensure the self-sufficiency and financial security of family members.

Each of the services have special provisions in place which allow designated care providers to have access to military base facilities (commissary, BX/PX, medical) in order to affect the care of the military dependents, when the family care plan is actually in effect (i.e., care has been transferred from the military member to the care provider).

Commander Review

The regulations require that each family care plan is reviewed for workability and completeness by the commander or a designated representative. The "designated representative" is usually the executive officer or first sergeant. After the initial review, the plans are updated by the member and reviewed at least annually.

Time Periods

When a military member first becomes a single-parent or military couple with children, they must notify their commander, supervisor, or the commander's designated representative immediately but no later than 30 days of the occurrence of the change in family circumstances or personal status (60 days for Guard/Reserve members). After that, the military member(s) have 60 days (90 days for Guard/Reserve members) to submit a completed family care plan. If mitigating circumstances are involved, the commander or supervisor concerned may grant the member an additional 30 days to submit an acceptable family care plan. Further extensions are not authorized.

The same 60-day rule applies for active-duty military members who move from one military base to another. They have 60 days to find a short-term care provider who lives in the local area.

Military mothers of newborns receive a four-month deferment from duty away from the home station for the period immediately following the birth of a child. This provision is to assist the member in developing family care plans and to establish a pattern of childcare. Single members or one member of a military couple who adopts receive a four-month deferment from the date the child is placed in the home as part of the formal adoption process. Similarly, Reserve component members receive a four-month deferment from involuntary recall to active duty.


Failure to produce the required family care plan within the time periods required can result in involuntary separation from the military by reason of parenthood in accordance with DOD Directive 1332.14 (enlisted) or DOD Directive 1332.30 (officers). Failure to produce the required family care plan in the case of the Reserve member can result in processing for discharge or transfer to an inactive or retired status.