Bill Could Help Deployed Parents Custody Rights

August 19, 2015

A bill has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would provide servicemembers who have been deployed or are facing deployment protection during custody determinations. The proposed legislation would prevent their absence, caused by the deployment, from being a factor in the custody determination.

The bill, entitled “Servicemember Family Protection Act” was introduced by Rep. Joe Turner as a way to stop members of the armed forces from losing custody of their children when they are deployed.

As the bill is currently written, the primary provision states, “If a motion or a petition is filed seeking a permanent order to modify the custody of the child of a servicemember, no court may consider the absence of the servicemember by reason of deployment, or the possibility of deployment, in determining the best interest of the child.”

Not as Easy as It Looks

While it may seem like a noncontroversial bill, merely designed to protect the custody rights of servicemembers serving their country on long overseas deployments, its passage is not assured.

The Air Force Times reports that bills similar to this one have been introduced six times and approved by the House, only to die in the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The article quotes Rep. Joe Turner as saying, its designed protect members of the military from “the constant fear that their custody rights as parents could be in jeopardy due to their service.”

Would Allow Temporary Modifications

The bill would allow a state court to issue temporary modifications to an existing custody order while one parent was deployed, if there was a showing that it was in the best interests of the children. However, these temporary modifications would revert to the original agreement once the servicemember returned from their deployment.

Rep. Turner originally received little support from the military for his bill, as the problem was seen as having limited scope and not affecting a significant number of servicemembers. Defense Secretary Robert Gates finally offered support two years ago, and current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has recently sent a letter to the members of Congress, urging their support.

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