New parents in the Army can take advantage of a revamped parental leave policy that went into effect in a Jan. 22 memo.

Getting the Army in line with the rest of the services, the directive’s language no longer automatically assumes that postpartum mothers are primary caregivers, while more than doubling the amount of time off previously allowed for new fathers.

The new policy is retroactive to Dec. 23, 2016, according to the memo, so new parents who are still within eligibility windows could be entitled to more leave.

The most significant change separates what has traditionally been known as “maternity leave,” which increased to 12 weeks immediately after birth in 2016, into two categories: “maternity convalescent leave” and “primary caregiver leave.”

Arin Lassiter practices changing a diaper on a premature baby in an incubator during a Womack Army Medical Center Maternity Fair at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Army published a new parental leave policy on Jan. 22. (Twana Atkinson/Army)
Arin Lassiter practices changing a diaper on a premature baby in an incubator during a Womack Army Medical Center Maternity Fair at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Army published a new parental leave policy on Jan. 22. (Twana Atkinson/Army)

Now, the Army allows six weeks immediately after delivery for a woman to recover physically, then another six weeks she can take at any time within that first year. At the time same, the child’s secondary caregiver can take three weeks of leave at any time during that first year as well. The previous policy allowed 10 days, and fathers, for example, had to take the leave within 45 days.

Those limits are extended if a soldier becomes a parent while deployed, and the clock begins when they return.

The reason convalescent and primary caregiver leave are separate, according to the policy, is that there are now allowances for unusual circumstances where a child’s birth mother is not its primary caregiver. That could include death or illness of the birth mother, or another situation where she is not present for the child.

In that case, a soldier may file a request to become the child’s primary caregiver and be eligible for up to six weeks of leave.

In the case of a legal adoption, soldiers will have to be designated a primary or secondary caregiver, and then request six or three weeks of leave accordingly.

Some other considerations:

  • Female soldiers who give their children up for adoption are authorized six weeks convalescent leave only.
  • Convalescent leave and caregiver leave cannot be used to extend terminal leave when a soldier is preparing to leave the Army. 
  • The new policy also applies to children of unmarried parents, but non-birth parent soldiers will have to provide proof that they are one of the child’s caregivers. Previously, only married soldiers could take leave.

The new policy brings the Army in line with the other services, who updated their parental leave policies in June, per a 2016 Defense Department directive.

The Army offers the same 12 weeks to new mothers that all of the services have, but while the Army, Air Force and Coast Guard allow 21 days of secondary caregiver leave, the Navy and Marine Corps offer 14 days.