Proposed bill might affect military divorces

When it comes to military divorces in Florida, there may be a few extra rules regarding the division of military pensions, residency requirements for filing for divorce, and certain legal protections for the military member. Yet when it comes to child custody, the best interest of the child is the prime standard in almost all Florida divorce cases, civilian or military, based on factors set by state law.

However, a proposed bill seeks to add a federal layer of protection to state child custody determinations. The U.S. House recently passed a bill (H.R. 4201) that protects service members from losing custody of their children because of military deployments. Commentators do not believe the bill will pass in the U.S. Senate, however.

Proponents of the bill argue that service members should not have to worry that future deployment might cost them the custody of their children. However, a 2-year study by the U.S. Department of Defense found no evidence that service members were losing custody of their children solely because of their military service. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also opposes the bill in its current form, believing it could be misconstrued by state courts as permission to subordinate the best interests of the child to an adult service member's preferences.

Ultimately, the issue may be resolved without federal intervention. Currently 40 states have passed legislation that says deployment cannot be used as the sole factor in custody issues.

In Florida, a factors test is used by family law courts, involving multiple inquiries into the arrangements that will best suit a child. Military service members with children may also already have the option to prepare a standardized pre-deployment family care plan, to provide for care arrangements in the event of deployment.

While no divorce is easy, divorce and custody matters involving members of the military and their dependents are often very challenging. An attorney can ensure you are granted the time you need and deserve with your child, whether through joint custody or through visitation.

Source: The Herald, "Military child custody bill has its detractors," Tom Philpott, June 11, 2012

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