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Custody Cases Can Be Affected by Military Deployment

Child custody decisions are rarely easy. But they can become even more complicated when a military service member is involved.

Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to pass a bill that is supposed to military personnel from losing custody of their kids due to deployments.

"Service members should not have to worry while they're deployed, or facing a future deployment, that their service to country might cost them the custody of their children," said the bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio.

Although the bill passed the House by a vote of 390-2, several groups have raised concerns. Both the National Military Family Association and the American Bar Association question whether the bill goes too far in creating a new level of federal court review in child custody cases involving military families.

No one wants a rush to judgment when someone is faced with potentially losing custody of his or her kids. But the Servicemember Family Protection Act could conceivably cause cases to take too long.

The additional layer of review might also leave decisions in the hands of federal judges with little experience in family law. Normally, it is state judges, not federal judges, who handle family law cases.

Rep. Turner says that, despite these concerns, the bill is needed to give service members a level playing field in custody cases - one in which deployment is not held against a parent who wants to still be a dad or mom to his or her kids.

Nonetheless, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta does not support the bill. He believes custody issues should be left to state courts, where the traditional standard of "best interests of the child" usually still applies.

Source: "Military child custody bill has its detractors," HeraldNet, Tom Philpott, 6-11-12

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