Soldiers Losing Custody After Deployment

There are laws protecting active members of the U.S. military from being distracted by lawsuits over bad debts while they are serving their country in wartime, and to prevent spouses back home in the U.S. from being summarily evicted for falling behind on the rent. But when it comes to custody of their children, that’s a different story.

After being away for months or years, service members may return home to find that the stay-at-home spouse has taken custody of the kids and won’t give it back without a court order, reports the AP. Worse, due to the fact that mom or dad has been gone for a significant amount of time, a court may find that it is in the best interest of the children to remain where they are.

“The minute these guys are getting deployed, the other parent is going, ‘I can do whatever I want now,’” says Jean Ann Uvodich, a lawyer who represented Marine Cpl. Levi Bradley in a Kansas family court battle over the custody of his son. His former wife now has custody, after the judge ruled held that the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act that would have helped protect him during his absence from a collection over a bad debt didn’t apply to his child.

It isn’t only parental rights that are at issue, though; in most states, laws call for judges to take into account the best interest of the child, says Dale Koch, an Oregon judge who is president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. “You don’t want to penalize a parent because they’ve served their country. On the other hand … you don’t want to penalize the child.”

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