Mike Turner and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity Chairwoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) have requested that Full Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA) hold a markup of Turner’s military child custody legislation, H.R. 4469, before the end of the calendar year. H.R. 4469 was approved by the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity on July 28th; however the full committee has yet to take action to advance the bill.
In their letter to Chairman Filner, Reps. Turner and Herseth Sandlin note that this week, The Oprah Winfrey Show will profile the issue of service members losing custody of their children due to their military service. During the taping of the program, Oprah spoke with Eva Crouch-Slusher, a Captain in the Kentucky National Guard, who Rep. Turner had previously invited to Washington, DC to meet with Members of Congress to advocate for the protection of servicemembers custody rights. Captain Slusher was mobilized for 18 months with the Kentucky National Guard starting in 2003. Her service was later used as the basis to strip her of custody of her daughter Sara. After an emotionally and financially costly two-year legal battle, Eva regained custody of her daughter.
Rep. Turner’s child custody language, which was also included in the House version of the FY2011 National Defense Authorization Act, prohibits courts from permanently altering custody orders during a parent’s deployment, and requires pre-deployment custody to be reinstated unless it is not in the best interest of the child. Additionally, the legislation prohibits state court judges from using deployment or possibility of deployment of service members to deny them custody. Since state laws regarding military child custody vary widely, if they offer any protection at all, Rep. Turner has argued for a national baseline standard.
As a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Turner successful included his child custody language in the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) four times. Additionally, Rep. Turner’s legislation was approved unanimously by the House of Representatives as a stand-alone bill in 2008.
Throughout the years, Congressman Turner has worked on bipartisan basis to help service members. This year, Congressman Turner has cooperated with Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) to win support for H.R. 4469. On April 29th, Rep. Turner and Rep. Herseth Sandlin met with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to advocate for federal safeguards of military parents’ rights in custody cases. More information on Rep. Turner and Rep. Herseth Sandlin’s meeting with Secretary Gates can be found here.