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Should deployment be a factor when determining custody rights?

Should child custody laws be different for individuals who serve in the military? Going through a military divorce carries the same emotional stress as the average divorce. But complications can arise if the couple has children together and is determining what custody plan works best for the situation.

These problems surface when one parent is deployed and goes overseas for a lengthy amount of time. In some situations, that parent can be penalized for their absence if a dispute about child custody arises. But recently a debate has been sparked over proposed legislation that would afford more protection to military divorcees who have children.

Often, family court proceedings are not made public so the actual number of cases where deployment was a factor is unknown. But supporters of the legislation believe that troops should not be losing custody of their children simply because they are serving in the military. Currently, in regards to military troops' custody rights:

  • 13 states have few state laws that help to protect rights
  • 21 states have state laws that to some degree help protect rights
  • 16 states have state laws that meet the Department of Defense's standards for protecting rights

This new legislation, if passed, affords protection under federal law. It would bridge the gap between the state laws and the lifestyle that service members live - deployment and long absences. In addition, it can make things simpler when a service member moves out of the country yet still desires custody or visitation rights following a divorce.

Again, navigating the waters of divorce when one spouse is an active member of the military can be a challenge. There are many factors in a military divorce that are non-existent in other divorce settings. Should federal laws exist to make military divorce a smoother process for service members?

Source: Stars and Stripes online, "Pentagon to support bill to protect troops' child custody rights," Charlie Reed, 17 February 2011

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