In a change of policy, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has announced that the Pentagon will work with Congress on a bill that would make sure servicemembers are not at a disadvantage in child custody disputes due to their military service.
Secretary Gates recently wrote, “The Defense Department has been officially opposed to federal legislation on this matter. However, I have been giving this matter a lot of thought and we should change our position.”
Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, has been trying to get support for the proposed Service Members Family Protection Act since 2006. Up to now, though, opposition in the Senate has thwarted his efforts. The change of position by the Pentagon should help to overcome Senate opposition.
Florida military divorce attorneys note that the proposed legislation would prohibit judges in child custody cases from using deployments against troops when making custody determinations. It would also not allow permanent changes to custody orders while a parent is deployed.
Turner wants to preserve these parts of the bill, even if further negotiations bring some changes. He is hopeful that Congress will be able to vote on the legislation within months.
Media attention to the issue of child custody cases involving servicemembers probably helped turn the tide on the Pentagon’s stance. A well-publicized Oprah Winfrey program highlighted the cases of several female servicemembers involved in custody disputes where their military service was made an issue.
The main objection up to now has been that family law is a state court issue, and that a federal statute would complicate matters. The Pentagon has been working on getting all of the states to safeguard servicemembers’ custody rights.
Turner wants a federal law in order to protect servicepeople who move frequently. Regardless of the state of the marriage, the divorce attorney in Coral Springs, or the child custody dispute, the same federal statute would apply.