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New child custody rules may benefit military in Maryland

In recent years, there has been an upswing in military deployments, especially for those in the National Guard and reserves. At the same time, a surge in divorces has been noted among those in the military. Many issues affecting child custody and visitation rights arise when one parent is deployed to another country or even just assigned to a base in another state. Maryland may now have the opportunity to enact a set of rules designed to help the members of the military with these difficult issues.

In many state courts, when someone moves from a state, they are no longer able to invoke that state's jurisdiction regarding a child custody matter. This has led to often heart-wrenching situations for military service parents, either because they are ordered to another state or return from an overseas deployment to find that their spouse and family have moved out of state.

One Navy enlisted man's story serves as an example. He was living in Virginia before being deployed. His wife was pregnant. When he returned home, his wife had left with his 7-month-old daughter to Arizona and would not let him see her. He tried to have a judge in Virginia order the daughter to be returned to Virginia, but the judge refused, claiming the state had no jurisdiction because the man had relocated.

In order to address this kind of harsh result, the Uniform Law Commission, a group of attorneys representing all the states, has just given final approval of the "Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act." The measure is an effort to create uniform custody rights in all states for parents who are members of the military. One of the key provisions is that even if the service member is absent from the state, the state will continue to be able to claim child custody jurisdiction.

The same commission that created the new rules created the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, which has been enacted in 49 states. That act has greatly aided enforcement of child custody orders across state lines.

Beginning next year, the Commission will start pushing for enactment of the Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act in state legislatures across the country. Hopefully, these rules will create uniformity and strengthen the rights of military parents when dealing with difficult child custody disputes.

Source: Washingtonexaminer.com, "US panel: Improve child custody rules for military", Kristen M. Hall, AP, July 18, 2012

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