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Federal act helps deployed soldiers in child custody cases

Family law can be a difficult practice area for a lot of people to understand because of what it encompasses and how many laws apply. Even things that you think might be easy to establish, such as child custody, can get complicated because laws vary from state to state and courts can quarrel about who has jurisdiction.

But a recent case highlighted another family law issue regarding deployed service members. Some of our Spokane County readers may have heard about the case of the 28-year-old submarine serviceman who was threatened with jail time because he failed to appear for a child custody hearing back in June. He might have encountered serious litigation if it weren’t for a federal law that protected his parental rights.

Those of our readers who serve in the armed forces here in Washington may be aware of the Servicemember's Civil Relief Act. SCRA provides a number of protections to service members, including the suspension of civil obligations during active duty or deployment. In the case above, the 28-year-old had been deployed at the time of the hearing, meaning he was protected by the SCRA.

It’s important to note that if the judge had followed through with her initial suggestion of issuing a warrant for his arrest and had awarded custody of the serviceman’s 6-year-old daughter to his ex-wife, the court would have been guilty of violating his rights. This could have led to further litigation had it not been for the outcries from the public who pointed out the law and the servicemen’s rights.

Because of the presence of military families in our state, pointing out this law now could help prevent a court case such as the one above from happening to some of our readers down the road. At the very least though, it highlights the complexity of family law and the legal problems that can arise without full knowledge of the law and your rights.

Source: Army Times, "Custody case highlights a dilemma of deployment," Lance M. Bacon, July 5, 2014

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