Because of problems in the family court system, when a divorced or never-married military parent deploys overseas, they often face the possibility of losing their custodial arrangement and their relationship with their children. Fathers & Families and its legislative representative Michael Robinson have been at the forefront of this issue, successfully working to pass military parent legislation in dozens of states. The first success on this issue occurred in 2005 in California with the passage of SB 1082.
SB 1082 addressed the way parents who serve are often taken advantage of in custody and family law matters while they are deployed, and helped resolve the child support nightmare many mobilized reservists face. Fathers & Families organized a campaign in support of the bill, and the Senate Judiciary Committee Analysis of SB 1082 made specific note of your calls and letters. We’ve also had some success with federal legislation on this issue–to learn more, click here.
Recently we reported that military mom Lt. Col. Vanessa Benson, who is a part of these efforts, won her case in part because of a Florida law Fathers & Families helped create. To learn more about the case, which was covered by CBS News, click here.
Fathers & Families’ Robinson’s work has benefited many other military parents. Last year Robinson assisted Clinton M., an Air Force Tech Sergeant who is the custodial parent of a daughter. Clinton was able to get a successful resolution, in part because of SB 1082.
Clinton is stationed in North Dakota at Offutt AFB and is remarried to his current wife Stacy. They are a blended family with other children. Clinton was originally awarded full custody of his daughter, in part because the mother had an alcohol problem as well as other issues. The mother had been on supervised visitation for some time.
Like many custodial fathers, Clinton wanted his daughter to have a relationship with her mother and, encouraged by the mother apparently taking steps to clean up her life, agreed to work out a parenting plan that would allow his daughter to have unsupervised parenting time with her mother.
The mother, who lives in Stanislaus County, California, had her first visitation during Christmas break 2008. Clinton had received orders to deploy to Afghanistan on January 5, 2009. The mother was aware of the deployment in advance, and was supposed to return their daughter to Clinton on the day Clinton was to deploy to Afghanistan.
The mother told Clinton that she wasn’t going to return his daughter, then filed her own motion for child custody and to have jurisdiction for custody change to California. As a pretext, the mother made the discredited claim that Clinton’s current wife Stacy had abused his daughter. She had twice previously made these allegations against Stacy. The allegations had been looked at by the North Dakota Child Protective Services and also the investigative unit of the Air Force, and in both cases Stacy was completely cleared and the allegations were dismissed.
Robinson prepared Clinton’s Responsive Declarations, Exhibits and Points of Authority for their March 2009 case. Robinson’s Points of Authority were based upon: California SB 1082, which established FC 3047; 2008 amendments to the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act; and other statutes and case law regarding jurisdiction. Robinson argued that the intent of these laws and amendments was to prevent deployed military parents from being ambushed over custody. The Clinton case was an excellent example.
Clinton was able to get leave to attend the hearing. Over the mother’s attorney’s vociferous objections, the judge stuck to the Points of Authority and ordered that the child be returned to Clinton immediately. The judge even ordered the District Attorney to pick the child up from school immediately and meet Clinton at a counselor’s office so that the counselor could help reduce any possible trauma to the child.
Clinton says his daughter is doing well and her situation has been stabilized. Much of the media’s focus on this issue has revolved around military mothers, but there are also many, many military fathers who have benefited from our work on this issue.