NDAA: Parental Leave for Service Members

Adult hand holding infant hand that is holding a heart - parental leave concept

“Family values” is a phrase we often hear in this country, especially from our politicians. But sometimes, talk of putting families first is often just that: talk. Fortunately, the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) puts in place some measures that are genuinely helpful to military families, including 12 weeks parental leave after giving birth, adopting a child, or fostering a child on a long-term basis, for qualifying service members.

Changes to Military Parental Leave under the 2022 NDAA

The 2022 NDAA demonstrates Congress’s commitment to supporting military families. Prior to the 2022 NDAA being signed into law on December 27, 2021, service members had access to family leave, but the NDAA significantly expanded it. Previously, primary caregivers received six weeks of paid parental leave, while secondary caregivers received only three weeks. New foster parents were not entitled to paid leave at all.

Under the 2022 NDAA, the distinction between primary and secondary caregivers is eliminated. Any parent who is a member of the armed forces will be eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave whether a new child comes to their family through birth, adoption, or long-term foster care placement. If a servicemember gives birth, they will be entitled to up to 18 weeks of leave, which includes a week for medical convalescence.

Sadly, the introduction of a child into the family is not the only time a parent may need to take leave, and the NDAA recognizes this as well. The law also created an expansion of paid leave for federal employees. The program will now offer as much as two weeks of bereavement leave following the death of a child. All federal employees, not just military service members, are eligible for this new bereavement leave.

Other provisions in the law include expansion of an in-home child care pilot program to help subsidize full-time child care by authorized providers for between 30 and 60 hours per week, and the creation of seven new child development center (CDC) waitlists. The expansion of child care options and bereavement leave, together with parental leave for service members, is a welcome show of support for military families.

Why Military Parental Leave Matters

The early weeks of a child’s life or their time with a new family are essential for bonding. The expansion of parental leave for military parents enables parents to take advantage of more of those precious days. It’s especially welcome for parents who are facing deployment or long hours away from their families to immerse themselves in parenting when they have a new child.

It’s also a positive development that the language around “primary” and “secondary” caregivers has been dropped. While most people anticipate that the parent who gave birth will be the “primary” caregiver for the child, that is not always the case. A situation from before the enactment of the 2022 NDAA illustrates why.

An airman’s wife gave birth, and for reasons personal to the airman and his wife, the family decided that the airman would be the primary caregiver for their newborn son, eligible for six weeks of leave at that time.

The airman’s unit commander denied his request to serve as his son’s primary caregiver on the grounds that the airman himself had not given birth. The unit commander also demanded medical documentation that it was necessary for the airman to be primarily responsible for his son’s care, which the airman refused to provide, arguing that the Air Force did not require that information and that his wife’s medical status was private.

The Air Force ultimately determined that it is up to service members, not their unit commanders, to decide who will serve as primary caregiver in their newly-expanded family. But with the passage of the 2022 NDAA, that choice is no longer necessary, as there is no longer a distinction between primary and secondary caregivers. In the scenario above, the airman would not have had to fight for six weeks to care for his son; he would have automatically received twelve.

Improved Military Parental Leave Program

It’s encouraging to see our government leaders not only verbalizing support for military families, but making it a reality. Our service members, and their families, already make a tremendous sacrifice for our country. At least with regard to welcoming a new member, they no longer have to sacrifice as much family time.

If you have questions about military family leave or your rights as a parent in the military, a family law attorney with experience in military family law matters can help. We invite you to contact Brinkley Law Firm, LLC, to schedule a consultation.