Ohio Congressional Representative Michael Turner has filed a bill that would prohibit U.S. military personnel who are single parents from having their parental rights affected by an overseas deployment. Read about it here (Military.com, 9/2/10). Turner, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said of his new bill,
“There are judges that will use a servicemember’s time away against them, as if they had hopped on a Harley and went away to California to find themselves,” Turner said. “[They are] comparing an absence to serve your county to an abandonment action on the part of a parent is just not justice.”
Turner said it’s impossible to even guess how many Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen who have had their custodial parent role overturned while deployed, or have been able to successfully fight it out. Cases are handled at local jurisdictions all across the country and are not tracked, he said.
Apparently, the bill is not without its opponents. Arizona Senator John McCain for example, opposes it on the grounds of states rights. He believes that states should be free to make their own rules in family law matters. For its part, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges is sticking its finger in the wind.
Judge Michael Key, president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, told Military.com his organization is aware of Turner’s legislation and is currently collecting input from its members on it. Once this is done, he said, the council will take a position on the bill.
“I can also say that, generally speaking, most judges I talk to don’t have a problem conceptually with the contents of that legislation,” he said. “Deployment in and of itself should not be grounds for modification of custody.’
Turner’s bill is a lot like the one Fathers and Families initiated and was instrumental in passing by the California Legislature. Read about it here.
Both are important for at least two reasons. The first and most obvious is that they prohibit the exact type of discrimination Turner describes. They help U.S. service personnel not be penalized in the custody of their children because they were serving their country abroad. That’s just basic fairness.
Beyond that, though, there’s another reason why Turner’s and the Fathers and Families bills are important. Any type of absence from a child’s life by one parent can be made into a reason to grant custody to the other parent. Because men tend to do more paid work than do women, most often, that absent parent is the dad. Now, children with two parents don’t want to lose either of them even if dad does travel for work a lot, but family court judges don’t always understand that.
What the California law and Turner’s bill do is to say to judges “time away is not necessarily abandonment.” And that principle, once applied to U.S. service personnel, can easily be applied to any employment situation. Stated another way, why should a dad – any dad – be penalized for supporting his family? It’s a simple concept and one that judges and legislatures should have grasped long ago. But so far they haven’t done a very good job of that. The Fathers and Families-backed law in California and Turner’s bill on the national stage will help them do what they should have been doing all along – understand that earning is as much a part of caring as anything else.