For a fourth consecutive year, legislation sponsored by U.S. Representative Mike Turner to protect military parents in child custody cases has advanced through the House Armed Services Committee. The language, included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), goes next to the full House of Representatives. A vote is expected by the end of the month.
“With House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton’s support, my child custody legislation, H.R. 4469, was incorporated in the Chairman’s mark of the FY2011 National Defense Authorization Act,” Rep. Turner said. “Chairman Skelton is committed to working across party lines to do what is best for our nation’s armed forces. I thank him for his support and advocacy for increases in child custody protections for deployed military parents.
State laws differ on the question of whether deployment or the potential for deployment can be used as a criterion to determine child custody. Many states have no laws at all.
The committee has given approval to language that prohibits courts from permanently altering custody orders during a parent’s deployment and requires pre-deployment custody to be reinstated unless that is not in the best interest of the child. Additionally, the language prohibits state court judges from using deployment or possibility of deployment as a factor in determining the best interests of the child.
Since state laws vary widely, if they offer any protection at all, Congressman Turner has argued for a uniform standard. “Without this legislation, there is a danger a member of the military may return from deployment to find his or her child custody agreement has been permanently altered. This is not only a grave injustice to our troops, but it puts unnecessary stress on families that are already coping with the ordeal of overseas deployment,” Congressman Turner said.
For the last four years, Rep. Turner’s child custody language has been included in the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The language was included in the House-passed FY2010 NDAA, but had been subsequently removed in conference.
This year, Congressman Turner has worked on a bi-partisan basis with Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) to win support for the legislation. 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. In that meeting, Secretary Gates acknowledged the problem posed by use of deployment as a criterion in deciding child custody cases, and committed to “take a fresh look” at protecting the rights of our servicemen and women in child custody disputes. More information on Rep. Turner and Rep. Herseth Sandlin’s meeting with Secretary Gates can be found here.