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Uniform laws proposed to help armed forces with custody issues

The increasing and prolonged deployments of military service members over the past twenty years have created a number of issues for families tackling child custody and visitation. Individual states have tried to address these challenges individually with the end result being a series of inconsistent laws.

Although state laws usually do not come into conflict with each other, the very mobile nature of military service has caused problems when dealing with child custody and visitation. Common issues include:

  • Which state has jurisdiction when a military parent is working in a base located in another state
  • Whether step-parents or grandparents are entitled to visitation while the military parent is deployed
  • Whether temporary custody should become permanent when a military parent returns from overseas

To address these problems, the Uniform Law Commission, which is composed of a group of roughly 350 attorneys from all the states, has worked to create a common law, which each state can adopt, which will eliminate some of the uncertainty surrounding military custody issues.

The Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act would create certain standards for states. Specifically, a parent who was forced to move to another state because of a military deployment wouldn't be grounds for a parent to lose custody jurisdiction in the home state.

According to the Uniform Law Commission, there are good reasons for keeping these laws in individual states rather than adding it to the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The most important reason is clarity. Jurisdiction over family matters has always been a matter for state courts to decide. Adding a provision to a federal law could muddy the waters, making an already complex area of law, even more challenging to navigate.

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