Military Divorce And Military Child Custody – Good News On The Horizon?

U.S. military servicemen and women risk make a sacrifice for our country that most of us can only admire and be thankful for. But today, along with risking their lives, many service members are also risking the stability of their families.

When the U.S. forces began operations in Afghanistan in 2001, the divorce rate among military couples was 2.6 percent, according to the Defense Department. Unfortunately, with the frequency and duration of deployments on the rise as a result of the last decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our military families have suffered. In 2011, the Defense Department announced that the military divorce rate had risen to 3.7 percent. The rising divorce rate has means that more and more military parents are forced to juggle their child custody issues with their obligations to their country.

Family courts have always been biased against parents who are absent, for good reason. Always aiming to advance the best interests of the child, courts favor stability in the home for children. Unfortunately for military parents, being at the beckoned call for deployment means that traditional family “stability” is a luxury unavailable to the military family. This unfortunate reality has manifested itself in a perceived court bias against active military parents who are absent, even if their absence is due to a military deployment.

Military families dealing with divorce face a unique set of challenges which are often complicated by a lack of harmony between the demands of military life and civilian family courts. But there may be good news on the horizon – the Uniform Law Commission, an influential group of some 350 attorneys appointed by each state, met in Nashville this summer to tackle the issue of deployment and child custody. The result was the Uniform Law Commissions final approval for the Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act (“DPCVA”).

The DCPVA is a set of uniform codes aimed at standardizing child custody rights for military parents who are deployed. Through its approval of the DCPVA, the Uniform Law Commission is sending a strong signal to state legislatures across the country that service members deserve to be protected in child custody and visitation cases. As it stands today, many states have implemented a patchwork of laws dealing with the issue, but the problem lies in the inconsistencies across states. Individual states struggle with issues like how to determine jurisdiction when a military member is assigned to a base in another state, whether a stepparent or grandparent can exercise custody when a parent is deployed, and how a temporary custody arrangement should be adjusted when a parent returns from assignment.

Proponents of the DCPVA say that the proposed legislation should be preferred over the alternative, a proposed amendment to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The amendment to the existing federal legislation would include protections for service members in child custody cases. But, not only has the amendment stalled in the Senate for seven straight years, critics say it lacks the efficacy of the DCPVA because it only establishes a floor minimum for state child custody legislation. This is because family law matters are issues controlled by the states and as a result, a federal law can only set the floor for protection for military parents, the rest is up to the individual states to adopt more stringent pro-military custody statutes. The DCPVA, on the other hand, is a model for state legislatures to adopt that would permit states to maintain control over family law matters by continue taking into consideration the best interests of the child, but the legislation would forbid the courts from considering a service member’s absence in serving our country to be used against them.

If you or a loved one serves in the military and is considering divorce and/or facing child custody challenges, you need a family law attorney who is well versed in the unique circumstances of military families. Contact our office today to learn more about your rights and your options.

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