Thursday, March 23, 2006

Military Family Care Plans & Custody

It seems that the military's Family Care Plan (which gives temporary power of attorney and guardianship of children to a spouse/guardian/family member) may have some flaws that allow for custody problems when the troop redeploys.

These cases have affected many women upon their return –-Regina Ellis is one of those women:

"Regina Ellis is going through a similar experience. She was deployed overseas for a year, and she also followed the Family Care Plan. Now that she's back, Ellis has lost custody of her son, Trevor.

"This month, her ex-husband gained full-time custody, and Ellis said she sees Trevor only every other weekend.

"'It's not just us and it's not just the Army and it's not just females -- this is military-wide, and it hurts,' Ellis said." (source)

This isn't only affecting female soldiers, but fathers fighting the WOT too.

"Military service sometimes costs men their children. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act provides that if a parent moves a child to a new state, that new state becomes the child's presumptive residence after six months. With the long deployments necessitated by the war, a military spouse can move to another state while her spouse is deployed, divorce him, and then be virtually certain to gain custody through the divorce proceedings in the new state." (source)

Another little discussed travesty is that some service members are returning from a war zone to be fined –or worse jailed –because of child support payments. Payments that were based on their civilian income that the pay received for active duty makes impossible for them to pay.

"For example, a California naval reservist who has three children and who takes home $4,000 a month in his civilian job would have a child support obligation of about $1,600 a month. If this father is a petty officer second class (E5) who has been in the reserves for six or seven years--a middle-ranked reservist--his active-duty pay would only be $2,205 before taxes, in addition to a housing allowance. Under current California child support guidelines, the reservist’s child support obligation should be $550 a month, not $1,600.
A reasonable reader unfamiliar with the wonders of the child support system would probably think “OK, but the courts would just straighten it out when the reservist gets back—certainly they wouldn’t punish him for something that happened because he was serving.” However, the federal Bradley Amendment prohibits judges from retroactively modifying child support beyond the date which an obligor has applied for a modification. Reservists can be mobilized with as little as one day’s notice. If a reservist didn’t have time or didn’t know he had to file for a downward modification, the arrearages stay, along with the interest and penalties charged on them.” (source)

Similar to the now much discussed ‘Dear John’ letters –and more importantly –custody and child support matters should be the last thing on a service members mind when they are in a war zone –or deployed at all. I’m surprised this hasn’t been more publisized because the DOD really needs to get it together on this one...

(H/T: Baley)

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