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Father in military may lose custody rights after deployment

The sacrifices of military life and the need for adjustments in the circumstances of active military personnel led Congress to pass a number of laws over the years. These apply to service members nationwide, including in Georgia. The laws generally attempt to assist military personnel who cannot always predict their schedules or whereabouts. In one recent case, a father who is in the U.S. Navy may lose child custody rights because he was posted to a submarine in the Pacific Ocean and missed a custody hearing.

A judge ordered that the child be returned to the mother because the father is not available to attend proceedings relating to the mother’s custody petition. The father’s local attorney, however, requested a stay of all proceedings under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. It mandates a 90-day stay in civil court proceedings if military service affects a member’s ability to participate.

The court, however, seemed oblivious to the request, and instead threatened to have the father arrested on a contempt charge. However, protestors then began appearing outside of the courthouse, and the press coverage began to take on a national air. In her most recent ruling, the judge backpedaled and granted the 90-day stay, saying that the father’s lawyer dropped the ball.

The attorney disputed that characterization and explained that she had put the facts to the judge several times prior to the court hearing. The six-year-old girl remains in her home in another state, where she is living with her stepmother, the service member’s current wife. The case is even more controversial because the father originally took over custody of the child when Michigan Child Services authorities removed her from the mother’s home.

The case is indicative of some of the kinds of problems that military personnel can suffer when they are suddenly deployed. Similar problems with child custody and visitation have occurred throughout the country, including in Georgia. When the laws that protect military personnel are understood and honored, everything works a lot smoother, and a service person’s life can be made a lot easier.

Source:, "Submarine duty no defense in child custody case", Dennis Pelham, June 17, 2014

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