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||The Betrayal of the Military Father
by Glenn Sacks, GlennSacks.com
7 May 2003
Because a normal military
deployment is six months or more, if an unhappily married military spouse
moves to another state while the other spouse is deployed, by the time the
deployed spouse returns the child's residence has already been switched.
When Gary, a
San Diego-based US Navy SEAL, was deployed in Afghanistan in the wake of
the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, he never dreamed that his
service to his country would cost him his little son. Gary's son was not
taken from him by a terrorist or a kidnapper. This 17-year Navy veteran with
an unblemished military and civilian record was stripped of his right to
be a father by a California court.
Gary's story, which was the subject of a two-part Fox News feature called
"SEAL, Sorrow" earlier this year, is not an unusual one. Under the Uniform
Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, if a parent takes a child
to a new state, that new state becomes the child's presumptive residence
after six months. Because a normal military deployment is six months or more,
if an unhappily married military spouse moves to another state while the
other spouse is deployed, by the time the deployed spouse returns the child's
residence has already been switched. Since courts lean heavily in favor of
a child's primary caregiver when determining custody, the spouse who moved
the child is virtually certain to gain custody through the divorce proceedings
in that new state.
Because of the strict restrictions on travel by active military personnel,
the cost of legal representation, and the financial hardships created by
child support and spousal support obligations, it is very difficult for returning
service personnel to fight for their parental rights in another state. Many
struggle even to see their children, much less remain a meaningful part of
their lives, and the bond between the children and their noncustodial parent
is often broken for years, if not permanently.
Gary has not been able to see his son, who now lives abroad, in nearly nine
months. When he calls he can sometimes hear the three year-old ask "when
daddy come?" and "where's daddy?" in the background but he is often prevented
from speaking with him.
According to nationally-known family law attorney Jeffery Leving, author
of Fathers' Rights, there are three solutions to the problems facing military
fathers. First, the federal Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940
needs to be amended to specifically prohibit the spouses of active duty military
personnel from permanently moving children to other states without the permission
either of the active duty military spouse or of a court. (The primary purpose
of the Act, whose origins go back as far as the Civil War, is to protect
active armed forces personnel by mandating that civil actions against them
be delayed until after their return from service).
Second, California laws, which currently do little to prevent a custodial
parent from moving children far away from the noncustodial parent, need to
be changed to prohibit any permanent removals done against a deployed military
parent's will. Third, the UCCJEA needs to be amended to state that the presumption
of new residence does not apply if the children are taken in this wrongful
Gary has lost nearly $100,000 so far fighting for his son and may soon be
forced to declare bankruptcy, which in turn will destroy the top secret security
clearance he needs for his job. Worse yet is the emotional devastation wrought
by his separation from his son and the knowledge that he may never see him
again. He says:
love for my son cannot simply be brushed aside as the courts seem to believe
it can. I can remember holding my little son's hand like it was yesterday.
I can remember his cry. I hear it every time I hear another child crying.
"Sometimes I wonder what I risked my life [in Afghanistan] for. I went to
fight for freedom but what freedom and what rights mean anything if a man
doesn't have the right to be a father to his own child?"
This column first appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News.
Glenn Sacks is a men's and fathers' issues columnist and radio talk show
host. His columns have appeared in dozens of America's largest newspapers.
To learn more about his radio show, go to His Side with Glenn Sacks. Glenn's
website is GlennSacks.com.
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