National Legal Panel to Review Child Custody Rules for Military Service Members

Military service members from Massachusetts and elsewhere in the United States sometimes face child custody issues particular to deployments, trainings and other military obligations that require their presence in locations that are often far away from home. Usually state courts struggle with issues related to jurisdiction, but a national legal panel is creating a uniform code that state legislatures can adopt to standardize child custody issues for deployed parents.

For more than a decade, parents in the military have had to deal with a rise in military deployments and obligations because of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. A substantial number of states have laws designed to protect the child custody interests of service members, but each state’s laws are different and the patchwork of rules results in legal inconsistencies across the U.S. The inconsistencies create unnecessarily difficult family law issues for military parents.

There are some common issues that state courts have had to address. State courts have struggled to determine jurisdiction when a service member is assigned to another base in another state, whether a temporary custody arrangement should be made permanent when a parent returns from deployment, and whether grandparents should have visitation rights when a parent is deployed.

The Uniform Law Commission, a national group of 350 attorneys from each state, is finalizing a uniform code on child custody rights for parents in the military. If adopted by each state, there would no longer be inconsistencies in regard to the issue across state lines. One of the key provisions of the law establishes that the absence of a military parent from a state will not be used to deprive that state of jurisdiction for custody.

Members of Congress have tried to amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to reflect child custody protections for deployed service members, but the efforts have failed because family law is traditionally viewed as an area of state law not federal.

A uniform code adopted by each state may get around that roadblock. An experienced family law attorney can help parents navigate their child custody issues.

Source: The Associated Press, “U.S. Panel: Improve Child Custody Rules for Military,” July 18, 2012