The US House of Representatives just passed a bill that would prohibit family courts from considering military deployment as a factor when awarding custody. The bill was introduced by Representative Michael Turner, R-Ohio, and will now be headed to the US Senate for a vote. The rationale behind the bill is that individuals who are ordered into deployment by one branch of government should not be punished in the form of adverse custody decisions by another branch of government. Presently, family court judges can cite deployment as a factor in determining a custody order. The bill would only prohibit deployment as a factor if the individual being deployed cannot bring family members with them on their assignment. Further, the assignment must be between 60 days and 18 months in length.
There is already a law in place protecting military members in the context of divorce. Persons in the military service of the United States are specifically protected by the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act of 1940 (SCRA), which, by making provision for the temporary suspension of legal proceedings and transactions relating to them, is designed to ensure that their civil rights are not prejudiced during their terms of service. The SCRA is not, however, a blanket moratorium on all divorce actions against servicepersons. Its protections only come into play when the defendant is prevented or hindered by his or her military service in defending the divorce action. An affidavit of non-military service is a commonplace requirement in a divorce action wherein the plaintiff must submit a signed affidavit indicating the defendant is not in military service in order to move the divorce forward. The defendant can waive the protections of the SCRA and proceed with a divorce while in military service if they so choose.