Congressman Turner Secures Important Protections for the Parental Rights of Our Service Men and Women

Washington, DC: For the last seven years, Congressman Mike Turner, the Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, has fought to protect the parental rights of our service men and women.

Last week, the bipartisan FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act successfully passed the Senate and is headed to the President’s desk for his signature. Congressman Turner authored and successfully included provisions in this bipartisan legislation that will provide a uniform national standard that prohibits state courts from using past, current, or future deployment against service members when making child custody determinations.

In 2007, Congressman Turner met Lt. Eva Slusher, who lost custody of her daughter, Sara, when she returned home from deployment as a member of the Kentucky National Guard. In Lt. Slusher’s case, the judge ruled that because of her deployment, “the military lifestyle is not stable and is not conducive to raising children.*" Following an arduous two-year, $25,000 court battle, Lt. Slusher successfully regained custody of her child, but at a significant personal cost.

“Unbelievably, family law courts across the country have used military deployment or the even possibility of deployment against our service members when determining custody arrangements,” said Turner. “Inspired both by Lt. Slusher’s story and the stories of numerous other men and women, we began working to find a legislative solution that would protect the parental rights of all current and future service members.

"We have a duty to protect those who protect us. Service members risk their lives in support of military operations that keep our nation safe. They should never be penalized for serving their country. I was honored to author, champion, and successfully fight to include a national standard of protection in this year’s NDAA that ensures service members will not loose custody of their children because they have served or might deploy as part of their military service,” said Turner.

These important provisions amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and also prevent courts from permanently altering custody orders during a parent’s deployment and require pre-deployment custody to be reinstated unless it is not in the best interest of the child.

Currently, there are a myriad of state laws that do not match and that provide an opportunity for ex-spouses to venue shop until they find a state that will alter custody agreements. Additionally, Department of Defense documents have acknowledged a direct link between child custody disputes and military suicides.

“This difference in state laws creates chronic uncertainty and places unimaginable stress on our military men and women. We have a national military. We need a national standard,” said Turner. “These important protections will provide all our military men and women with the guarantee that their service to their country won’t jeopardize their rights as parents.”

“We are grateful for the support of Secretary Hagel, Secretary Panetta, and Secretary Gates and the consistent effort of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon to see this important initiative through,” said Turner.

In 2008, Congressman Turner included a specific provision in the Service Members Civil Relief Act that grants service members a 90-day window to appear in court for cases related to child custody.

Military child custody legislation has passed the House on twelve separate occasions:

Nine times as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (FY2008, FY2009, FY2010, FY2011, FY 2012, FY2013, FY2014, FY2015)

Twice as a standalone bill by voice vote (H.R.6048, 2008 & H.R. 4201, 2012)

Once as part of the Veterans Economic Opportunity Act (H.R. 2481)

*Click HERE to read more.


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