The Uniform Law Commission, a group of attorneys representing all the states, has just given final approval to the Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act, an effort to create uniform custody rights for parents who are members of the military. The same commission created the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, which has been enacted in 49 states. This act has greatly aided in making consistent rules for establishing jurisdiction and child support orders between states.
Arizona residents are likely aware that many issues affecting custody and visitation rights arise when one parent is deployed to another country or even just assigned to a base in another state. The issue of which state should have jurisdiction is a difficult one. Usually, when someone relocates from a state, they lose the right to invoke child custody jurisdiction in that state.
However, this rule has caused many members of the military to experience nightmare child custody scenarios in court upon their return home after their service to this country. In one case, when a Navy petty officer residing in Virginia was deployed, his wife was pregnant. When he returned home, his wife had left with his 7-month-old-daughter to Arizona and would not let him see her. He tried to have a judge in Virginia order the daughter to be returned to Virginia, but the judge refused, claiming the sailor could not invoke jurisdiction in that state because he had relocated. In order to correct this kind of injustice, one of the key points of the draft legislation is that even if the service member is absent from the state, they can still invoke custody jurisdiction in that state.
The draft law addressed other issues such as stepparents' or grandparents' rights to establish visitation rights when a parent is deployed, and whether temporary custody orders should automatically become permanent when a parent returns from a deployment. Next year, the commission members will start pushing for the uniform law's enactment in state legislatures across the country.
Source: Arizona Daily Star, "Panel: Reform military child custody rules," Kristen M. Hall, July 19, 2012