By Mike Stetzer
June 1, 2007 — A couple of weeks ago, we detailed the deficiencies with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act in terms of it being unable to protect deployed military personnel from losing custody of their children.
Specifically, the military child custody article detailed how ex-spouses of these service members were using deployment as a means to request new custody hearings and how judges were often complying with these requests out of the "best interests of the child." The story also posed the question of what about the civil rights of these military personnel who are losing custody of their children while honoring their duties.
North Carolina Representative Grier Martin apparently was thinking along similar lines and has thus introduced a piece of legislation that would better protect military custodial rights.
A Charlotte Observer story detailed how this proposed North Carolina child custody law for deployed military personnel would prevent judges from ruling that deployment automatically triggers a "change of circumstance" for child custody and visitation.
This legislation would rather equip deployed military personnel with the option of delegating their visitation rights to another family member throughout the length of the deployment. It would also ensure that these service members would regain custody upon returning home.
As for custody and visitation hearings prior to deployment, this North Carolina child custody legislation would strive to expedite the process and clear up any problems that may result from the upcoming military duty. Furthermore, this legislation would allow service members to appear at court hearings via phone, teleconference or the Internet.
The story added that no organization or government agency, including the Defense Department, tracks child custody disputes involving deployed military personnel. Martin opined in the story that more and more military personnel may have a less of an incentive to stay in the military with this current possibility of losing custody of their children upon deployment.
The Charlotte Observer story noted that these military child custody disputes typically involve people in the National Guard or the reserves, and indicated how this issue has become more of a problem with longer tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With this legislation, North Carolina joins a growing list of other states that have recently addressed this child custody problem facing certain deployed military personnel. Legislators in Arizona, Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas are currently considering similar legislation.