Panel seeks uniformity in custody laws for military parents

There are numerous military bases in Maryland and throughout the country from which service members are deployed for lengthy terms. When military personnel are subject to deployments, they may face certain family law and child custody disputes because of this.

Service members often feel they have fewer parental rights due to their military service. This may be due to jurisdictional problems; deployments being considered against military parents when determining the child’s best interest; and difficulties updating the temporary custody arrangement that was in place during deployment after the service member returns home.

The Uniform Law Commission, a national panel of 350 attorneys from across the nation, recently gave final approval to the Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act.

This act is a set of model uniform codes that state legislatures can adopt, which would result in more consistent custody rights from state-to-state for deployed service members.

A major issue with military-related child custody issues is jurisdiction. Sometimes, when a military parent is deployed outside the state that the other parent lives in, this can create major problems.

For example, one naval officer was deployed from Virginia while his wife was pregnant. His daughter was born in Virginia but by the time he returned to the states, his wife had moved to Arizona and refused visitation. The officer turned to the courts but was told that Virginia no longer had any authority over the matter because the officer now had orders to move to another state.

While federal legislation to clarify these issues has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, it has been unsuccessful as family law has traditionally been a states’ rights issue. With approval of the model code, the commission now plans to work to introduce it to state legislatures next year.

Source: USA Today, “Panel: Improve child custody rules for military,” July 18, 2012