Any service member welcoming a new child can take up to 12 weeks of parental leave in the year following, according to a congressionally mandated policy signed Thursday.

In recent years, birthing parents have received from six weeks for birthing parents while nonbirthing parents received no leave.

Now, both parents are entitled to 12 weeks of leave to bond with a new child, on top of any doctor-recommended convalescent leave for the mother.

The new policy normalizes parental leave policies across the services starting with children born or placed after Dec. 27, 2022.

For non-birthing parents whose children were born between Dec. 27, 2021 and Dec. 27, 2022, and who requested their full 21 days of leave but haven’t taken it, their parental leave allotment bumps up to 12 weeks.

So for secondary caregivers who held off on taking leave in anticipation of the new policy, or who took part of their 21 days, they can now take up to 12 weeks, with a deadline of the child’s first birthday.

For those parents who took all of their previous secondary caregiver leave, they aren’t eligible for the new 12 weeks.

“It is important for the development of military families that members be able to care for their newborn, adopted, or placed child or children, “ Gil Cisneros, the Pentagon’s personnel and readiness boss, wrote in the new policy. “Unit commanders must balance the needs of the unit with the needs of the member to maximize opportunity to use parental leave.”

The new policy falls short of some lawmakers’ expectations, according to a letter from a senator and two congresswomen in November 2022. They urged the Defense Department to authorize 12 weeks of parental leave on top of six weeks of convalescent leave for mothers.

Unlike convalescent leave, parental leave can be taken in increments during the year following a birth, foster placement or adoption, at least seven days at a time.

“Commanders are encouraged to approve requests for incremental periods of parental leave” the policy reads. “If the unit commander does not approve taking incremental parental leave, they must allow the member to take the full 12 weeks of parental leave in one continuous period.”

For parents whose children are born while they are deployed, commanders may allow troops to redeploy for parental leave if they determine it will not substantially impact unit readiness, according to the policy.

If a deployment, exercise or school falls within the one year after welcoming a child, a service member can defer taking the entirety of their parental leave until they finish that obligation.

The new policy, signed into law with the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act in December 2021, provides parity among birthing and nonbirthing parents for the first time.

Traditionally, new mothers were given six weeks of leave to recover from childbirth, while their partners received none. In recent years, the services have added another six weeks of maternity leave, but left partners with half of that at most.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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