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Ohio lawmaker fights for military parents' child custody rights

No conflict with an ex over parental rights is easy, but some Columbus parents have a more difficult time than others. Try to imagine resolving a child custody or visitation dispute from a place from halfway around the world. That's a reality for some U.S. parents serving overseas in the military.

Parents in the armed forces often have to spend several months or longer away from their spouses and children. Military marriages can be stressed to the breaking point, in part due to those long separations. When a military couple has children, custody issues can be a serious problem for deployed soldiers.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act provides some relief for parents in the uniformed services, although not as much as deployed parents and at least one Ohio lawmaker would like. Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, introduced legislation multiple times to strengthen legal protections for parents in the military. Turner's latest bill is before the Senate, where the legislation was shot down four times in the past.

A recent custody case involving a sailor caught Turner and the nation's attention. A judge had ordered the father of a 6-year-old girl to appear in court or risk imprisonment and loss of custody rights. The man was unable to attend the hearing, because he was serving on a submarine.

The judge later delayed proceedings after learning the father was deployed. Provisions in the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act grant military personnel an extendable stay of 90 days. In this case, the sailor's ex-wife wanted to amend the former couple's custody agreement to decrease support; the child lives with her father and stepmother and sees her biological mother during supervised visits.

Family law attorneys represent the best interests of their clients, including parents with extraordinary circumstances due to military service. A lawyer can act as a deployed soldier's voice, while the parent fulfills his or her duties in the military.

Source: Source: Marine Corps Times, "Custody case highlights a dilemma of deployment," Lance M. Bacon, July 5, 2014

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