Serve Your Country -- Lose Your Kids

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Appearing at The Blogging Curmudgeon, My Left Wing, and the Independent Bloggers' Alliance.

Wake Up, America

Now there's a trade off, huh? Add this to the list of sacrifices that the small minority of Americans known as "our troops" is making for Bush and his cronies. Men and women in the armed services are losing their kids in custody battles for no reason other than being deployed.

Such was the reality of Lt. Eva Crouch, who returned from her National Guard duty to find that she had stumbled into a legal gray area.

A federal law called the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is meant to protect them by staying civil court actions and administrative proceedings during military activation. They can't be evicted. Creditors can't seize their property. Civilian health benefits, if suspended during deployment, must be reinstated.

And yet service members' children can be _ and are being _ taken from them after they are deployed.

Some family court judges say that determining what's best for a child in a custody case is simply not comparable to deciding civil property disputes and the like; they have ruled that family law trumps the federal law protecting servicemembers. And so, in many cases when a soldier deploys, the ex-spouse seeks custody, and temporary changes become lasting.

Family court judges have a fair bit of latitude because their mandate is best interest of the child; not necessarily what seems fair to parents. And in a sense, judges such as the one who handed Eva's daughter over to her ex-husband have a point. Endless war is terrible for the children and family members of the troops who have to fight it; especially given that many of them are serving in back to back deployments of ever-increasing duration.

Two years and $25, ooo dollars later, Crouch has regained custody of her daughter Sara. But an unknown number of other service people have returned from battle to fight on another front; the courts.

Military and family law experts don't know how big the problem is, but 5.4 percent of active duty members _ more than 74,000 _ are single parents, the Department of Defense reports. More than 68,000 Guard and reserve members are also single parents.

Divorce among military men and women also has risen some in recent years, with more than 23,000 enlisted members and officers divorcing in 2005.

Isn't it wonderful having a President who is so devoted to family values?