Upon Return, Military Parent Finds An Empty House and Their Child Abducted. What Happened To The Happy Reunion?
In the last few years we have all watched the televised homecomings of military personnel returning from tours of duty to see their loved ones, more often than not children overjoyed to be in the arms of fathers and mothers once again. But what do we see of the not-too-happy homecomings where the returning parent’s outstretched arms are left empty and cold? This is the picture which should be burned into our minds each time we see a happy reunion. For each of those joyous televised feel-good sound bites there is a parent who will step into a battle more heartbreaking than the battlefield they have just left, more grievous than any physical injury they may have sustained along the way.
That battle will take place in a family courtroom somewhere “back home”, hopefully in their HOR, Home of Record as recorded in the military file, but increasingly in jurisdictions where the returning soldier or sailor has never been. Why? Because the parent remaining at home with the children decides to move away, to cut the children off from any viable contact with their military parent. It is a selfish, unconscionable act that is performed every day in this country and done so with at least a temporary degree of impunity.
Many returning parents don’t realize their child is gone until they arrive home and are told their child is gone. No one sends them a letter to say their child support or allotment check is being sent to a new location in another part of the State or Country. The child support enforcement agencies won’t even provide the addresses. That is “privileged” information the Payor is not entitled to without a court order. They often arrive back to the base where they left parent and child ensconced in military housing only to find a vacant house and a bill – for cleaning, for storage, for unpaid debt. Often there is no custody order to seek enforcement of because dad just assumes he’s coming home to an intact family. His child may have been absconded with as soon as he left American soil. If there IS a custody order in place how can he hope to enforce it sitting in a tent in Iraq?
Many, if not most, jurisdictions simply invoke the UCCJEA and refuse to honor the HOR and the active military status, creating a nightmare – financial and emotional – for the parent seeking to be reunited with his child. The absconding parent often seeks the uninformed opinion of a mental health professional to prepare their case. These “professionals” become quickly absorbed in the false drama of the self-serving absconder and are quick to toss out words like “reunification”, “estrangement”, “abandonment” and far too often buy into false allegations no matter how implausible. In pure essence they are saying that a parent being deployed is “abandoning” his family and returning as a complete stranger to the children he kissed goodbye when he left!
These cases come across my desk on a regular basis. I get frantic parents contacting me from Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany, Japan and pretty much everywhere there is a military unit at any given moment. The abject fear and desolation I hear in these young voices is unimaginable to most Americans sitting comfortably in front of their television sets watching those little clips of children running into their father’s and mother’s arms. The “feel-good” local news cameras don’t pan to the parent off to the side with tears running down his face because he doesn’t even know where his child has disappeared to. I sometimes feel that the local broadcasters actually believe that THEY have created these happy moments and are somehow responsible for all the tears of joy. They would most assuredly be doing a better service to our military by highlighting the other side of the picture, by broadcasting the pictures of the abducted children in the hopes that some compassionate neighbor, friend or family member comes forward with a bit of information, some hope.
What Laws Can Protect Military Parents?
There ARE remedies, there IS hope and there are ways to make navigating the horror of these scenarios more bearable and more easily dealt with. Many states are finally presenting legislation that offers protections, but until these protections become law and put into practical use, the protection must be sought through those laws and procedures which are already available. I have split this article into “Part 1” and “Part 2”. You have just read Part 1. Part 2 will be posted shortly. In Part 2, I will discuss some of the important protections that every military parent must prepare for, and I will speak of many of the mechanisms which can lead to at least a higher degree of security.
Our guest contributor this week is Judianne Cochran a nationally recognized expert/consultant in the following disciplines: sex offender profiling; false allegations in custody cases; interstate and international parental abduction; interstate custody, military issues and parental alienation. She has testified in numerous Courts throughout Ohio and the country. Judi presently resides in Columbus, Ohio.
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