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Service members face confusion, inequities in child custody cases

A panel of legal experts from around the country met this week to finalize a recommended change to child custody law. The issue they are working to solve the patchwork of legal remedies and rights for service members returning from a deployment who are dealing with a child custody dispute.

Members of the military are afforded some special rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, but protections for them in child custody cases are not included. As a result, many of the brave men and women serving overseas return to find that their former spouse has violated portions of a custody agreement or has left the state, leaving them with little recourse.

One man told reporters the story of returning from a deployment to find his wife had moved to a different state with their seven month year old daughter, who he was unable to see. A court in his home state denied his request to compel the mother to bring the child back, citing a lack of jurisdiction over residents of the state that the mother had fled to.

He continues to struggle to get his parental rights but has been unable to find a judge that will side with him.

"It seems like every time I go to court I get beat up because I am in the military," said the man, who is an air traffic controller for the Navy.

The biggest problem seems to be the patchwork of child custody laws around the country. Family law is an area that is left to the states to define, so laws can vary widely. When experts gather to draft new laws they are submitted to state legislatures as model rules and many choose to adopt them but some do not.

Source: Associated Press, "U.S. panel: Improve child custody rules for military" July 18, 2012.

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