U.S. Representative Mike Turner today announced that his legislation to protect military parents in child custody cases, H.R. 4469, was approved by the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. It will next be considered by the full Veterans Affairs’ Committee.
The language, which was also included in the House version of 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 parents as a factor in determining the best interests of the child.
Since state laws regarding military child custody vary widely, if they offer any protection at all, Congressman Turner has argued for a national baseline standard. “Without this legislation, there is a danger a servicemember may return from deployment to find his or her child custody agreement has been permanently altered,” Congressman Turner said. “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.”
Rep. Turner began his advocacy on behalf of deployed military parents after hearing the story of Eva Crouch-Slusher, a Captain in the Kentucky National Guard. Captain Slusher served an 18 month mobilization 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, she regained custody of her daughter. Since then, Captain Slusher has joined Rep. Turner in advocating for legislation to help protect other troops from similar custody fights.
Prior to the mark up of H.R. 4469, Cpt. Slusher submitted a letter to Subcommittee Chairwoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) thanking her for her support of servicemembers and their families, and asserting the need for a national baseline standard. In that letter, Captain Slusher notes…
“While it is worthy that some states may have varying degrees of legislation in place, the protections vary greatly from state to state. Some states have not addressed the problem at all. The military services are governed by federal statute in many cases, such as the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. There should be a baseline of federal protection, and then states may build upon that.”