Congress Passes Law Affording Military Custody Protection to Our Deployed Servicemembers
Deployment Can No Longer Be Held Against Military Parent In Child Custody Disputes
Left to Right: Lt. Eva Slusher, her daughter Sara Slusher and Mike Turner
For 8 years, Michael R. Turner, R.-Ohio, has been calling for Congress to afford its military members child custody protection while deployed; it appears they finally listened.
In February 2010 and February 2011, Anne Shale posted articles entitled, “They Fight for America and Upon Return Must Fight for Their Children” and “BREAKING NEWS: Secretary of Defense Gates Changes Position to Protect Custodial Parents Deployed Overseas!” articles addressed Turner’s arduous fight to persuade lawmakers to amend the National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) to provide military members child custody protections while deployed overseas. Tuner was inspired in 2007 when he met Lt. Eva Slusher, a member of the Kentucky National Guard, who lost custody of her daughter after returning home from a deployment in 2004 because according to the judge, “the military lifestyle is not stable and is not conducive to raising children.” While Slusher did eventually regain custody of her daughter, it took approximately $25,000 in court costs and 2 years…precious time that she will never get back. It has been Turner’s hope that no military parent would have to endure what Slusher did. Now, thanks to his tireless efforts, they won’t.
According to the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act, state courts will no longer be able to alter custody arrangements while a military parent is deployed, and they will not be able to use past, present or future deployments against military members in custody disputes. Click here to read this law. Under the amendment, “If a motion or a petition is filed seeking a permanent order to modify the custody of the child of a servicemember, no court may consider the absence of the servicemember by reason of deployment, or the possibility of deployment, as the sole factor in determining the best interest of the child.” While the rule does allow for exceptions when the situation is not in the “best interest of the child,” a deployment alone can no longer be held against the military parent.
As a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps and now a lawyer handling custody matters, I am keenly interested in military/divorce related issues. We extend our thanks to Congressman Turner and Ms. Slusher efforts. No military member will have to serve with the worry that it is at the expense of their custodial rights as a parent!
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Thomas G. Kopacz
Thomas Kopacz is an associate attorney with Dayton, Ohio, lawfirm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues and the managing editor of the Ohio Criminal Defense Law Blog. He is also a member of the Association of Ohio Criminal Defense Lawyers.