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When deployment interferes with child custody disputes

When the men and women of the U.S. armed forces are deployed, they leave their families behind in order to serve the nation as a whole. They place their faith and trust in the idea that their families will be fine when they are gone. But sometimes, tragedy strikes. A family member dies or becomes ill while the service member is deployed. A natural disaster destroys his or her home. A judge insists that the service member must either return home or lose custody of his or her child.

“Wait!” you may be exclaiming. “The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protects military families from that kind of action,” you may be insisting. And you are correct. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act does hold that deployed men and women are allowed to temporarily suspend administrative and legal proceedings pertaining to various family law matters. This act helps to ensure that service members are not denied child custody rights and other rights because they are deployed and cannot appear in court.

However, a judge recently threatened a sailor with losing custody of his young daughter and with jail time for failure to appear at a custody hearing held during his deployment. There are times when even judges fail to uphold The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act in full.

As a result, it is important for military members involved in family law disputes to speak with attorneys experienced in military family law. These advocates should be able to advise service members of their options and should be able to help ensure that their rights under the The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act are respected.

Source: Army Times, "Custody case highlights a dilemma of deployment," Lance M. Bacon, July 5, 2014

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