Panel Urges Child Custody Reform for Military Members

Posted by Steven D. Eversole | Jul 23, 2012 | 0 Comments

A national panel of legal professionals has urged changes in the way states handle child custody disputes involving members of the military.


Birmingham family law attorneys recognize that military members who are working to balance active deployments and child custody arrangements face unique hardships that must be addressed.

This has become a growing issue in recent years, as deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a toll on many families. The separation of a deployment in addition to the changes a soldier experiences upon their return – from physical ailments to mental and emotional traumas – can push many couples to the brink.

While the divorce itself may be wrought with challenges, child custody disputes can be made all the more complicated when the military member is being bounced around from base to base or on varying deployments over the course of several years. Not only does it make it difficult for soldiers to maintain a bond with their children, it complicates the legal process, specifically with regard to jurisdictional issues.

There is of course the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, passed within the last year, that protects active duty members from default civil judgments when they can't be present in court. However, this law doesn't specifically address child custody cases, and as a result, many states have made their own rules regarding how these situations should be handled.

But that has left many soldiers confused on where they stand.

That's what the Uniform Law Commission is seeking to address. Following their most recent conference in Nashville, the prestigious group of 350 lawyers from around the country drafted the Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act. It entails a set of guidelines that would standardize the child custody rights for active, deployed military members.

Some of the issues it addresses are how a state would determine the proper jurisdiction in cases where a military member is assigned to a base in another state, whether visitation rights should be awarded to grandparents or stepparents when a soldier is deployed and how it should be decided if temporary custody arrangements should be made official once a parent returns from overseas.

Of course, it would be up to lawmakers to actually take those recommendations and pass them, but our Birmingham family law attorneys believe this could be a positive first step in establishing fairness in these proceedings.

One example given of how the current system is broken is the case of a 31-year-old Navy veteran who was deployed several years ago while his then-wife was still pregnant with their daughter. While he was overseas serving, she gave birth, and then filed for divorce, moving to another state.

The soldier's daughter was 7 months-old when he returned and filed for custody rights, as his ex was refusing to allow him to see his child. However, the judge in his home state stated he didn't have jurisdiction to handle the case because the soldier had been given orders to relocate to another state.

It's been nearly five years, and he still has not been able to secure stable visitation. He contends that civilian courts don't seem to understand the rights he should be afforded under the Relief Act.

Some in Congress have suggested potentially amending that act in order to specifically include child custody provisions. The legal panel has opposed that, saying it's a civil rights issue.

The bottom line is that soldiers should not be punished in family court for their service to our country.

If you are a military member struggling with child custody issues in Birmingham, contact Birmingham Family Law Attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.

Additional Resources:

Panel: Improve Child Custody Rules for Military, staff report, Associated Press

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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