United States Department of Justice: Protect soldiers from being legally sued for child custody while deployed
We are requesting a Federal Law or an amendment to the Service member Civil Relief Act to include a protection for soldiers against been sued for child custody while they are on or about to be deployed on deployment status. to include the territory of the commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The Service Member Civil Relief Act does not cover any legalese regarding the custody rights of service members. This leaves Soldiers defenseless against situations where the legal guardian or other family member can take advantage of the Soldier being overseas to gain full custody of a child. Many times the Soldier is unaware of the custody case against him or her due to the lack of communication between the two parts. The normal course of action taken by the courts is to assign custody to whichever parent is present at the time of the hearing. To fix this problem, some states have enacted specific laws and regulations to protect service members, but there are still many states that do not provide any kind of protection to those service members currently serving on overseas assignments. This leaves the stability of these families in the hands of individual courts. 146,000 single military parents in 2008 accounting for about 6.6 percentof the total for the total force strength.
The percentage of single military parents was higher in the Reserve Component (8.7 percent) thanin the Active dutyComponent (5.3 percent). Over the past ten years, the number of single parents in theActive duty component has declined, while the number of single parents in the selectedReserve members has increased over the last decade by 60 percent (ODUSD (MC&FP),in press). Though the gender difference is not as evident as the civilian population, asshown in Figure 4, female Service members were at least twice as likely to be single parents, compared with male Service members, in both Active Duty and Reserve components. Of Service members who ever deployed to OEF/OIF, single parents make up 17 percent
The Family Care Plan, a plan put together by the Soldier’s command to ensure the well-being of the child in case of an emergency, is not a court order which means it is not legally binding in civilian court. This means that should a Soldier leave their child with an ex-spouse or family member, the ex can sue for custody regardless of the plan laid out by the soldier and his or her chain of command. In certain cases where joint custody is awarded to both parents, judges will often mandate in the case decision that in the event of a deployment, the child will be left with the remaining spouse. Many soldiers deploy and discover that in their absence, things have changed dramatically. Deployed parents have received legal notices mandating child support increases, changes in custody, and in some cases outright refusal by the custodial parent to allow the returning soldier to see their children. Army-wide statistics are not available on parents losing the custody of their children because the Army does not track these cases. Unless both parents are service members, the military justice system is unable to effectively engage in mediation on behalf of parents who are fighting court battles to regain custody of their kids. As a result, there may be a very high number of parents who lose the custody of their kids in civilian courts. The US Department of Defense does not grant legal representation to soldiers and since redeploying to attend court is up to command discretion many times there is little to no support for these custody battles. Courts should not be able to find soldiers unfit because of the multiple duty station moves and deployments that are a part of any military orders expected of a Soldier.
It is the responsibility of the United States Department of Defense address this issue and find permanent answers to it. To make sure every soldier family is been taking care of before and during every deployment so every soldier can concentrate in performing on the battle ground. That would reduce the number of soldiers suffering from PTSD, desertion, depression, anxiety, and other stressors due to the added trauma that this situation can cause on out troops.
Unfortunately as a Puertorrican this is my story and unless the federal government create an amendment to the servicemember civil act none of the soldiers from Puerto Rico like many other places in the United States are protected from situations like this. There is only 36 states in the US who have created amendments to their laws to protect soldiers from being permanently separated from their kids while they are on combat zone. There is bonds and family ties that are permanently broken between the deployed soldier and the kids creating a permanent damage in both and destroying a family that was already established. Our legal system can’t criminalize the role of our soldiers /parents duty once they go overseas to fight for their country by taking away their kids and permanently marking them with feelings of abandonment.
There is no Active duty post in Puerto Rico where kids and family members of active duty service members can receive the adequate support once the parent is deployed. Even medical services are received through Tricare remote in private doctor offices where is inconsistent the method on how the billing and services are performed because they are used to receive patients that are members of the National Guard or Reserve.
The social services department in Puerto Rico have no base to evaluate military homes and families to give a recommendation to the court houses. Inside every active duty post there is rules and regulations that categorize military families as a subculture. They move a lot base on military orders, kids are exposed to many languages and cultures, they are segregated on post and there is many other factors that have to be evaluated before a social worker decide to evaluate a military home. Reality is that this have to be included as part of the law because there is many Puertorrican soldiers who doesn’t have family members in the US and when they move to combat zone they return their kids to the island on temporary custody agreements. (loco parentis “family care plan” ) wish the court houses do not obey for lacking of jurisdiction and legality. SOLDIERS ARE UNAWARE OF THIS PARTICULAR ONCE THEY ARE GONE. That is when the family members take hands and legalize the custody petition with the court houses leaving the soldiers with no rights once he return.