January 24th, 2012 by Glenn Sacks Fathers and Families and its legislative representative Michael Robinson have been at the forefront of the fight to protect military servicemembers’ often tenuous child custody rights. We’ve successfully worked to pass military parent legislation in dozens of states, including Ohio, Georgia, California, Indiana, Nevada, and Arizona over the past two years.
While the family court system in general is biased against fathers, Fathers and Families has repeatedly warned that there are fathers who have learned how to work the system against mothers, and use it to their unjust advantage. When this occurs, Fathers and Families is on the side of the mother whose loving bonds with her children are being endangered.
In Re the Marriage of Brandt, decided this week by the Colorado Supreme Court, is such a case. Fathers and Families has been assisting Captain Christine Brandt of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps to regain custody of her 12-year-old son.
In short, Brandt’s ex, George Brandt, tried to take custody of their son away from Christine by using her military service against her. As Brandt’s attorney Stanley G. Lipkin, Esq. explained to the Court, this case is “about an active duty military person who has been deprived of the custody of her child solely by reason of her deployments.”
Fathers and Families favors equally shared physical custody in most cases, but we acknowledge that in some cases, such as this one, factors such as geography prevent true shared custody arrangements. When true shared custody is impossible, we believe that noncustodial parents should not try to take advantage of the custodial parent by using factors such as military service against them.
Christine Brandt has made significant efforts to respect George Brandt’s role in their son’s life. For example, in October of 2010, shortly after the beginning of the school year, Christine allowed their son to live with George for the rest of the school year, even though the year had just begun and she could have had her son live with her.
Fortunately the Colorado Supreme Court saw through George Brandt’s various child custody maneuvers, and issued a January 23, 2012 ruling wherein the Court “reverses and vacates the district’s court’s order assuming jurisdiction and remands this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision can be seen here. The full chronology of the case is available below. The case now goes back to Maryland, where it should have been all along, for a hearing this spring. We will keep our supporters informed of further developments.
Christine Brandt and Her Attorneys Thank Fathers and Families
Fathers and Families’ legislative representative Michael Robinson has advised Brandt and her legal team during their Supreme Court fight, and Brandt’s attorney included some of our materials, including documentation on changes to the SCRA, military parent legislation that F & F has helped pass in other states, in their brief.
Brandt’s mother Marianne Rufty, who served as Executive Director of the Commission on Child and Family Welfare during the Clinton Administration, has worked hard to help her embattled daughter. She recently thanked Fathers and Families, explaining:
As far as I’m concerned, Michael Robinson helped me as much as anybody with this case. Our response is good in large part because you sent us the latest Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, the judge’s guide [A Judge’s Guide to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act by Mark E. Sullivan], the update of state legislation affecting military deployment and custody, and other states’ cases. In addition, you helped us understand what’s going on in California and across the nation.
After the Colorado Supreme Court victory, Brandt’s attorney Stanley G. Lipkin, Esq. thanked us for our help and wrote that this decision will “help deployed parents.”
The Fathers and Families Legal Defense Fund
The Fathers and Families Legal Defense Fund takes on cases, writes amicus brief, or advises in cases which can help advance the cause of family court reform, such as the Brandt case.
For example, Fathers and Families brought a lawsuit to block the new Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines from being implemented in 2009. The lawsuit has been covered by the Associated Press, the New York Times, CBS, WRKO, the Boston Globe, NPR, Newsweek, and numerous other major media outlets. The case went all the way up to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, where our side lost in September of 2011. To learn more, click here.
In another recent case, duped dad Pedro Soto and his attorney Richard A. Lowe, Esq. prevailed against the Orange County Department of Child Support Services in a paternity fraud case emblematic of the numerous outrageous injustices faced by men and fathers in family court. In this case, Soto has paid over $75,000 in child support for a child DNA tests have established is not his, and who has been living with both of his biological parents for many years. Fathers and Families was instrumental in that win–to learn more, click here.
Chronology of the Brandt Case
The basic chronology of the case is as follows:
- George and Christine Brandt had a son in 1999 and divorced in Montgomery County, Maryland in 2006. George and Christine agreed that the parties would have joint legal custody of their son, with Christine designated as the primary physical custodian. There has never been a modification of these orders, and Christine has remained a continuous legal resident of Maryland.
- At the time of the divorce, George was a member of the Army, and lived close to the minor child and shared custody with Mother. In 2008, Father requested and received a military transfer to Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Father retired from the Army in 2010, remarried that same year, and moved from Colorado Springs to Littleton, Colorado.
- Mother became an active duty member of the Army Nursing Corp in 2009, was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas and later deployed to Iraq on active duty for six months in 2010 before returning to Ft. Hood. In May of this year she returned to Maryland.
- At the time Christine was to be deployed to Iraq, she and George agreed to allow their son to temporarily stay with George in Colorado. After Christine returned from Iraq in October 2010, George asked her to allow their son to complete the 2010-2011 school year in Colorado. Christine was amenable to this, and the parties entered into a notarized agreement, and the child was returned to Christine in Texas in May 2011, after the end of the school year. Christine then returned to Maryland with her son, and is now in a non-deployable assignment at Fort Meade, Maryland.
- Without notice to Christine, George asked the Arapahoe County District Court in Colorado to assume jurisdiction of the case and modify the original Maryland child-custody order. George’s petition argued that Maryland should no longer have jurisdiction because Christine had not been in Maryland since March 2009. However, George’s Petition did not inform the Arapahoe District Court that the reason for Mother’s absence from Maryland was due solely to mandatory military assignments.
- On May 18, 2011, Mother was served in Texas with the Petition, which stated that she had 20 days to object. Yet on May 25,2011, prior to the expiration of the 20-day period, the Arapahoe District Court entered an order assuming child custody modification. Mother had not been afforded even the time set out in the Notice to file any objection.
- Mother responded appropriately and in a timely manner to the Arapahoe District Court, with proper documentation to support her version of events, including a request for a 90-stay of proceedings under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Yet, despite her request and after three telephonic hearings, the Arapahoe District Court continues to claim exclusive jurisdiction of the case, based upon a fallacious finding that Christine Brandt no longer resided in the original decree state, Maryland.
- George then filed an emergency petition to take custody of the child (based on a series of misleading statements), and the District Court issued ex parte order for the father to take custody of the child without affording any opportunity for Christine’s side to be heard. In late June, Christine had to return briefly to Texas to out-process from her military installation, and left the child with her mother. While she was gone, George went to Maryland and took the child back to Colorado. The boy has not seen his mother since, and they’ve been able to communicate only via monitored and restricted phone calls.
Christine’s case is based upon the fact that Arapahoe improperly assumed custody modification jurisdiction, even though the Maryland court has exclusive continuing jurisdiction over its original custody orders, and has deprived the rightful custodian of the custody of her child.