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New bill looks to protect custody rights of service members

A proposal that has been discussed for years has the potential to become a law once again. The legislation will protect the child custody rights of men and women who are active members of the military. It has been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives six times in the past. Upon each approval by the House, the Senate Armed Services Committee has fought against it.

The bill seeks to stop courts from permanently changing child custody arrangements while a service member is deployed. In addition, military service would not be considered when deciding if an individual is fit to be the custodial parent of a child. This means that, though the possibility of deployment could mean a large amount of time spent away from the child, it cannot be used against a person when making a custody determination.

One of the chief sponsors of the bill from the House is a Republican from Ohio. According to a statement, his goal is to ensure that members of the armed forces do not have to live with a constant worry about the custodial arrangements surrounding their children.

When the bill was first introduced, Department of Defense officials were not concerned with this issue, believing that it only affected those in a few states. That changed two years ago, when senior military officials and then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates endorsed the legislation.

While the bill will disallow permanent changes to custody arrangements, it will allow for temporary changes during times of deployment. There is an exception to the rule: If it is determined that a permanent change would be in the best interest of the child -- due to factors outside of military service -- the change may be made while the custodial parent is deployed.

Reports show that all 63 members of the House Armed Services Committee have shown their support. Many are hoping that this bipartisan support will add to the weight of the bill. It's good to have cooperation when recognizing that parents shouldn't be punished for wanting to serve their country.

Source: Air Force Times, "Bill would strengthen child custody protections," Rick Maze, Apr. 2, 2012

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