Child Custody and Protections for Deployed Service Members

Posted by Steven D. Eversole | Sep 02, 2014 | 0 Comments

Divorce is always complicated and personally challenging, but for service members, the process of divorce can be even more difficult. In addition to the complexities of asset division, service members who are stationed overseas may find it more difficult to protect their rights in custody disputes. A recent interstate dispute involving child custody has raised the issue of the rights of service members dealing with complex family legal issues and the Service Members Civil Relief Act.

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The Service Members Civil Relief Act temporarily suspends any judicial and administrative proceedings and transactions that would adversely impact the rights of service members during military service. Our Birmingham custody dispute and divorce attorneys are dedicated to representing military members and spouses who are facing divorce or other family law disputes. We are familiar with Alabama family law as well as federal law that protects the rights of service members, including the Service Members Civil Relief Act.

According to Navy Times, a Michigan judge threatened to put a deployed sailor in jail if he didn't show up for a custody hearing. His lawyer cited the Service Members Civil Relief Act and requested that the case be stayed, but the judge said the law allowed her to place the child under the mother's care until the case is resolved. The service member was ordered to fly his daughter from his home in Washington to Detroit where the mother is located. The wife of the service member, and stepmother of the child, has refused to comply with the order. An attorney representing the sailor has requested that the court immediately consider a motion for peremptory reversal of the judge's ruling.

The custody order would be in effect until October 24th, the date of the custody hearing, two days after the sailor is scheduled to return home from duty. A provision under the law grants service members a 90-day window to appear in court for cases that involve child custody. The law was introduced by service member advocates who saw injustice in the civil legal system, especially regarding family disputes. The law is intended to protect service members from losing their custody rights because of deployment.

Service members have long been at a disadvantage when it comes to custody disputes. In addition to the Service Members Civil Relief Act, there are also protections under the National Defense Authorization Act, which states that current and future deployment cannot be a factor when a court is making custody determination decisions. This bill was passed by the House this year and is still awaiting Senate approval. If you are a service member who is facing divorce or custody dispute, it is important to have a clear understanding of your rights and obligations under state and federal law. While service members have historically been at a disadvantage in custody disputes, there are federal protections that can help protect your rights and the best interests of your children. Service members serving their country should not have to face penalties or lose custody of their children as a result of deployment.

Contact Birmingham divorce and family law attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.

About the Author

Steven D. Eversole

J.D., Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, Birmingham, Alabama B.A., University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

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