Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Troops Losing Custody Due to Service...?!

Worse than the Tennessee teacher that lost his job due to his service in Iraq are the men (and now women) that are losing custody of their children for "abandoning them" for military deployment. Yes, you read that right.

This tragic phenomenon first came to the attention of the blogosphere with the story of three year old little Kelsey Briggs whose father was fighting for justice and answers in her abuse and death at the hands of her mother and stepfather while he was deployed in Iraq. This story still upsets me and I hope that anyone out there facing what Kelsey's grandparents were (knowing there was abuse but having no one listening) would send the plea through the blogosphere. You can read an update about Kelsey at Lost in Lima.

Glenn Sacks is working to bring other stories to the forefront:

1) Gary S., a San Diego-based US Navy SEAL, was deployed to Afghanistan after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and served in the Tora Bora region as US forces attacked Taliban and Al Qaeda strongholds. While away, Gary's little son was permanently moved out of the country, with the complicity of a California family court. The 19-year Navy veteran with an unblemished military record has seen his son only a few times since he returned from Afghanistan, and has been pushed near bankruptcy by legal fees and stiff child and spousal support obligations."

2) National Guardsman Joe McNeilly of Grand Ledge lost custody of his 10-year-old son after serving in Iraq for 15 months. Before deploying, McNeilly agreed to cede temporary full custody to his son’s mother. Upon his return, however, the court refused to restore the shared custody arrangement McNeilly and his son enjoyed before his deployment, citing McNeilly’s absence.

3) Lieutenant Scott Keenan, an intelligence officer in the Naval Reserves, deployed overseas for three weeks around September 11 as part of the government's extra security measures. Because of his deployment, Keenan wasn't able to exercise all of his allotted parenting time with his elementary school-age boys. Ignoring Keenan's special circumstances, Superior Court Judge F. Lee Forrester permanently reduced his parenting time by 20%.

4) Regina Ellis lost custody of her son to her ex-husband after she spent a year serving in Iraq, and can now only see her son every other weekend. (I posted about Regina) and this problem with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2003 in March)

" The federal government needs to update the Act to specifically apply to family courts. This will ensure that courts stay any long range legal action until after the servicemember has returned from deployment and has had a fair opportunity to assert his or her parental rights. The SCRA update must also specifically prohibit children from being permanently relocated long distances.

Some progress is being made. Widespread sympathy for McNeilly led to a bill signed by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm in December which prevents changes of custody while a military service member is deployed, and prohibits family courts from using servicemembers' service against them when determining custody. Outrage over Gary S.'s case led to a California military parents' bill which Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law last September.

Gary says that he and others he serves with have been shocked by how little has been done to protect military parents. He says:

“Washington’s indifference to this situation is disgraceful. No parent should ever be pushed out of his child's life because he served his country.” (Read the entire story)

Deployment is abandonment?! Unbelievable...

(H/T: Baley)

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