Sometimes, if a military parent is deployed, or even has a chance of being deployed, it can be enough to sway a judge’s opinion of what is in the best interest of a child when determining custody arrangements and parenting plans.
However, three Texas members of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee support federal legislation that would protect the child custody rights of military members. Last month, the entire committee sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asking for his support of the bill. The Servicemember Family Protection Act would amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act creating a federal family law protecting the child custody arrangements and parenting plans of deployed military parents going through a divorce. It would also ensure that those plans are immediately put back in place once the parent returns home.
Since it is not uncommon for family law judges to take one’s military service into consideration when making child custody decisions, this bill would prohibit family court judges from taking into account the past absence of a parent because of deployment, or possible future deployment, when deciding custody and placement disputes. In addition, if a child custody motion is filed while the military parent is deployed, the new law would not allow any modification to a previous custody judgment until that parent gets home.
Bill H.R. 4201 has already been introduced on Capitol Hill six times and has handily passed the House. Last year, Panetta’s predecessor also supported the bill. With the DOD hopefully on board, it has a better chance of passing in the Senate this year. But, pushback from the Department of Defense has always squashed the bill on the Senate side. The Pentagon reportedly does not want to create a federal rule for an issue that is usually handled by individual state laws and better left up to the discretion of a judge.
Source: turner.house.gov, “Turner and Andrews Joined by Full House Armed Services Committee in Calling for Action on Military Child Custody,” April 2, 2012