U.S. servicemen and servicewomen in Texas have always known that their military service can put a strain on their families and marriages. Sometimes a military divorce is inevitable. When it does occur, service members may find themselves at an unfortunate disadvantage when it comes to child custody.

The latest example of this involves a divorced Midwestern couple who have a 6-year-old daughter together. The father is a U.S. Navy submariner. Several years ago, their state’s child protective services agency removed the young girl from her mother’s care, and her father obtained custody. When he was called to go on active deployment, he left the girl with his current wife — her stepmother.

Recently, the girl’s mother resumed the child custody battle, arguing that the girl should be in her care if the father is unavailable, not her stepmother’s. A judge ordered the father to appear at a court hearing, but because he is in the Pacific Ocean serving on a nuclear submarine, that is impossible — military laws even prohibit his appearance via video chat or even speaking at the hearing via telephone. And not appearing at a child custody hearing involving one’s own child can have drastic consequences.

There is another military law, however — the Service members Civil Relief Act — which the father’s supporters argue should apply in this case. The law allows courts hearing military child custody cases to grant grace periods of at least 90 days or more when a defendant is on active deployment. The judge in this matter has so far refused to issue such a grace period.

Dallas residents interested in military and family law issues will certainly be watching this case unfold, as will we on our Dallas family law blog. It does reinforce the point in the meantime that military divorce and child custody matters often benefit from professional legal counsel experienced with the often arcane technicalities of divorce for military service members.


Source: ABC News, “Sailor Serving Overseas Ordered to Appear in Custody Fight,” June 19, 2014