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Divorce, deployment and child custody

Divorce is hard on all of the parties involved, including the children, and in cases of military family law these cases may be handled a little differently than their civilian counterparts. For instance, recently, a 28-year-old serviceman was threatened with jail time as well as the loss of custody of his daughter while he was deployed. This man holds primary custody of his daughter from a previous marriage. However, the child custody issue garnered tremendous public sympathy, compelling a judge to reverse her previous decisions.

As a rule of thumb, the military views divorce and any related issues as private civil matters which can be better dealt with by a civilian court. However, service members may obtain a stay or a postponement of any proceedings if their military service does not allow them to assert their legal rights. In such cases the courts look into whether the military service has materially affected the serviceman's right to defend the action in a court proceeding. For this, the serviceman needs to submit in writing how the military service prohibits him or her from appearing in the proceedings on the designated date and time.

Furthermore, the date on which the service member would be available also needs to be stated. If leave for an appearance in court is not authorized, then the courts may even give that person a stay for 90 days. The relatively new law known as the Service Members Civil Relief Act protects the service member's right in a family court.

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

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