Protecting Child Custody Rights for Service Members Should be a Priority

by Congressman Michael Turner (R-OH)
Washington, Feb 26 2010

The stories are too frequent: a service member, many times a single mom, is called to serve her country and is given a short time to wind down her personal business and deploy. She makes temporary custody arrangements for her children usually with her former spouse, sometimes in the form of a non-binding family care plan. The mom is then deployed. Upon return from deployment, she goes to pick up her child, and finds out that her ex-spouse won’t relinquish custody without a court order.

Sometimes the story is even worse. For example, a service member in fighting for custody in court has their custodial rights terminated by a judge simply because of ‘deployment’ or even the ‘possibility of deployment.’ Deployed parents, serving our country in places like Afghanistan or Iraq, need protections from state courts disrupting these established family arrangements. We cannot have one branch of government asking American men and women to serve, while another branch punishes them for their service.

Over the past four years, I have introduced legislation to strengthen child custody protections so mothers and fathers in uniform will not be forced to lose custody of their children due to their military service. The purpose of this legislation is straightforward: to protect our men and women in uniform from their deployment being used against them in child custody disputes.

This issue first came to my attention after Kentucky National Guard member Lt. Eva Slusher, who was deployed to serve her country, subsequently lost custody of her daughter, Sara. After a two-year, $25,000 court battle, Lt. Slusher was ultimately successful in regaining custody of her daughter but at a great financial and emotional cost.

Upon returning from deployment to Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Vanessa Benson of the 101st Airborne Division found herself in a year-long battle with her ex-husband to regain custody of her 14-year-old son, totaling more than $22,000 in legal fees. In December 2009, a Florida judge awarded her temporary custody. However, her legal fight continues to regain full custody.

“We’re asked to drop everything to go to combat,” Lt Col. Benson said in a December interview with CBS News. “Is it too much to ask that we have protection for when we come back to get our children back?”

This year, I have introduced H.R. 4469 to amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The bill will protect the custody arrangements of service members during their deployment as well as prohibit the use of deployment as a factor in determining the best interests of a child in custody cases.

Furthermore, upon the return of the service member from deployment, any temporary change in custody would be immediately reversed, unless the reinstatement of custody is not in the best interest of the child. Finally, the amendment would not allow courts to consider a military parent’s deployment or possible deployment as a basis for determining the best interests of the child in custody court cases.

Our men and women in uniform need this basic protection to provide them the peace of mind that the courts will not undertake judicial proceedings concerning their established custody rights while they are serving valiantly in contingency operations. Even a single incidence is one too many. This legislation seeks to protect them and their children.

From our law office in Westerville, Ohio, Jesse R. Mann, Attorney at Law, provides comprehensive family law services to clients throughout Central Ohio, in Franklin County, Licking County, Delaware County, Knox County, and the communities of Columbus, Newark, Sunbury, Galena, Mt. Vernon, Centerburg, Worthington, New Albany, and Powell. Ohio Family Law, Westerville Divorce Lawyers, Dissolution Attorney Ohio, veterans, veteran custody rights, Delaware County, Delaware, Central Ohio Radnor, Prospect, Lewis Center, Kilbourne, Galena, Mt. Gilead, Cardington, Marengo, Sparta, Edison, Iberia, Ostrander, Powell, Shawnee Hills, Delaware County, Morrow County, OH

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