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Judge under fire for child custody decision

Disputes over child custody can be quite emotional and difficult for all parties involved. Parents may feel like they have everything to lose when it comes to custody of their children. When parents cannot come to a custody agreement on their own, a judge might need to make the important decisions. But the situation can be complicated even further when one parent is deployed on military duty and is unable to make scheduled court appearances.

This difficult situation played out recently in a Michigan courtroom, and the judge's decision is drawing a lot of criticism. The Lenawee County judge ordered the transfer of custody of a servicemember's 6-year-old daughter when the father did not show up to the custody hearing. At that point, the judge transferred custody to the young girl's mother. The father was on duty in the Pacific Ocean at the time of the hearing.

Since the decision, the judge has ordered a stay on the custody case, as required by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The freeze lasts until October. The judge contends that she was never asked to issue a stay by the father's attorney until the day of the hearing and that she did not know until that time that the father was deployed and unable to make an appearance. The servicemember's attorney did not agree that the judge was left in the dark.

Under the federal law, the father has certain rights while he is deployed, including a freeze on the child custody proceedings. The court previously issued parenting time orders, with which the father has complied, but it seems the mother is the one who is having trouble complying. Also, in 2010, Michigan Child Protective Services removed the young girl from the mother's home.

Judges look to the best interests of the child in these cases, but sometimes the answer is not always clear. There are always two sides to every story.

Source: The Daily Telegram, "Judge defends actions in custody case," Dennis Pelham, June 24, 2014

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