Congressmen Mike Turner (OH-3) and Rob Andrews (NJ-1) have sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, requesting his support for protecting the child custody rights of our men and women in uniform. The lawmakers were joined by every member of the House Armed Services Committee in supporting the request. Legislative language addressing this issue has passed the House of Representatives on six separate occasions.

“Our men and women in uniform sacrifice much in the service of our nation. They shouldn’t also have to live with the constant fear that their custody rights as parents could be in jeopardy due to their service. This legislation would ensure that being deployed, or the possibility of deployed is not used against them when child custody decisions are made by the courts,” said Turner.

Specifically, the Servicemember Family Protection Act (H.R. 4201) would amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to provide for the protection of child custody arrangements for parents who are deployed in support of a contingency operation. If a motion for change of custody of a child of a servicemember is filed while they are deployed, no court may modify or amend a previous child custody judgment, except if there is clear and convincing evidence that it is in the best interest of the child. The bill also prohibits any court from considering a member's past absence due to deployment, or possible future deployment, in support of a contingency operation in determining child custody disputes.

“The parental rights of our men and women in uniform should not be jeopardized simply because they made the meaningful and courageous decision to protect our freedoms,” said Andrews. “We must ensure that when custody decisions are rendered that they made in accordance with the child’s best interest rather than based solely on a parent’s absence due to his or her military service.”

In 2011 both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley, provided letters of support for the legislation. “As we move forward with the current legislative session, we look forward to the same level of support from the DoD in addressing this important issue and ensuring that our men and women in uniform have their parental rights protected,” wrote the lawmakers. 

The full text of Congressmen Turner and Andrew’s letter can be found here.

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