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Inconsistent rules lead to confusion in military child custody cases

Many young families in Texas value serving their country in the military. While this decision once meant that these families could move forward with their lives and feel more secure, with more and more deployments, especially to Iraq and Afghanistan, these families are feeling the strain. For many soldiers, surviving deployment doesn't mean their marriage will survive. Many find instead of getting a warm welcome upon return, they are faced with an epic and confusing battle regarding child custody.

Regardless of military status of either parent, the court's main responsibility in every state is to find the best child custody arrangement for a child. As honorable as it is to serve one's country, long deployments of one parent are bound to make most children build a closer bond with the other parent. However, in at least one recent case, a soldier returned only to find his wife and child had relocated to another state, with his wife forbidding him from seeing the child.

As hard as it can be for a child to be reacquainted with a parent after a long separation, no matter what the reason, in the long run a permanent break from a parent can lead to long-term devastation and resentment. This is a major factor in why lawmakers are attempting to pass legislation streamlining the process of child custody cases involving one or both parents in the military. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is designed to help servicemembers identify what their rights are and make sure their parental rights aren't compromised because of the time they spent serving their country.

With military cases, jurisdiction easily becomes an issue, and it can be tricky even figuring out which state a custody case should be held in. Servicemembers leave their families out of duty, not choice, and they should not be punished by being separated from their child as if they had abandoned them. A group of lawyers called the Uniform Law Commission is working to create clearer laws among all states that would ease the stress and confusion caused by the current laws that leave servicemember parents wrongfully fighting for their parental rights.

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

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