At Fathers and Families we receive many letters from divorced or separated military servicemembers with painful but preventable family law problems.
Many parents serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, or other distant locales are anguished that custodial parents have impeded or completely eliminated their contact with their children. When the deployed soldier calls his children at the court-specified time, nobody answers. Letters are written, but they never reach the children.
Needless to say, it is extremely difficult for a deployed servicemember to effectively overcome this visitation interference. Given the length and frequency of current deployments, many soldiers lose all contact and sometimes even their relationships with their children, particularly if the children are young.
Other servicemembers return from serving to find that while they once had a custody arrangement which allowed them to play a meaningful role in their children”s lives, a new custody arrangement allows them only a marginal role, if any role at all. To regain their previous custody arrangement they must engage in costly, time-consuming litigation, which increases conflict and consumes much of the time and money that they would otherwise be spending on their children.
To address these problems, Department of Defense Liaisons Office legislative representative Kevin Bruch and Fathers and Families legislative representative Michael Robinson worked to introduce Georgia’s HB 282. Many months in the making, the bill will help protect military parents’ child custody rights during and after deployments.
Currently, Georgia is one of the few remaining states that has no protections in statute. HB 282 (and its Senate companion bill, SB 112) largely mirror Fathers and Families’ California AB 2416, which was passed into law last fall.
HB 282 was introduced by Representative John Yates, Chair of the Defense and Veterans Affairs Committee. Representative Yates is also the last living WWII veteran in the Georgia Legislature. Fathers and Families applauds Representative Yates and Senator Joshua McKoon, who carried SB 112, for their efforts.
HB 282 and SB 112 will address servicemembers’ child custody issues in several ways. For one, they will authorize courts to issue orders granting grandparents, stepparents and extended families the ability to exercise a deployed soldier”s normal parenting time. By encouraging courts to issue such orders, we allow children to preserve their loving bonds with their deployed parents, and also protect the important relationships children share with their grandparents, stepparents, and other extended family. These bills will substantially reduce the current problem of deployed servicemembers being unable to enforce visitation/contact orders.
HB 282 and SB 112 create a rebuttable presumption that upon a servicemember’s return from deployment, child custody and visitation orders will revert to the original order. This protects the crucial role these parents play in their children”s lives, and helps prevent military parents from having to re-litigate their cases.
We will keep our members and supporters informed of the bills’ progress and any related Action Alerts.