Dear Senator Lugar,
I was a resident of the great state of Indiana from 2005-2010, and also an active member in the Army Reserve. I deployed in 2008-2009. Prior to that I was living with my fiancé. Days before I deployed we broke up. At the time we had nothing set in place legally for custody. I begged him not to change anything until I got back; I had no time to find a lawyer or anything while I was out the door to a combat zone. A few weeks after I was in theater, I received a subpoena that he was pursuing full custody. When I returned to Indiana I came back to a custody arrangement that I had no say in that I did not agree to. I lived in Indiana and shared joint custody while I finished my last year at Indiana University. I took an Active Guard Reserve position at Ft Knox as an Army Reserve Career Counselor. This position has a low risk of deployability and the salary that I make now is incomparable to what I could make in the private sector. My ex fought for full custody when I petitioned to relocate. He won, and I will lose Cameron in August. Judge Galvin of Bloomington, Indiana felt that the tie breaking issue was that I cannot provide the stability and continuity that my son's Father can. It is my firm opinion that as a result of my deployment and being on active duty I lost. The language that was used in the ruling clearly indicates this.
There are a few things that I feel need reevaluating. First, I am aware that there was a law passed in Indiana recently that protects service members from losing custody as a result of their military affiliation. I do not feel that this law helped me in my case. It may need some narrowing of its guidelines so that Soldiers like me do not fall through the cracks. Considering that my ex was able to get custody while I was gone was a frightening loop hole in our justice system. I was not given fair opportunity to defend myself.
Second, I am not the only service member to lose custody as a result of a judge's biased opinion that service members lack stability and continuity for their children. Army communities are strong, supportive, and tightly woven. This stereotype that is used in courts regarding a lack of stability in Military communities could not be more contradictory. All I want is the opportunity to care for and nurture my son. I put my life on the line for the same Judge who feels that my son is better off without me.
Some suggestions I have are; there should be at least one veteran's advocate in every courthouse. The major obstacle is that some Judges do not fully comprehend military life and culture. If this is not a feasible recommendation, maybe training Judges in better understanding military cases would be appropriate. I feel that this is a pinnacle downfall in these types of cases.
Please Senator Lugar, hear my case and the dozens of heart breaking cases out there like mine. One thing a Soldier can count on when deployed is coming home to family. I can’t tell you the pain of coming from one combat zone, into another on the home front. I look forward to hearing back from you. Your time and consideration in this matter are invaluable.
SFC Michelle Rotchadl