LANSING, Mich. — Legislation sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones, Rep. Tom Barrett and Rep. Klint Kesto to protect the custody rights of America’s servicemen and women is on its way to the governor’s desk to be signed.
“Members of our armed forces, who risk their lives to protect our freedoms, deserve to fulfill their service without fear of losing custody of a child while they are on duty,” said Jones, R-Grand Ledge. “I am proud to be teaming up with Representatives Barrett and Kesto to stand up for active-duty military parents by filling in a loophole in state law that was exposed last year in an unfortunate and well-publicized case.”
Senate Bill 9 and House Bills 4071 and 4482 would ensure active-duty military parents are not punished for not appearing in court over custody disputes while serving overseas and that they would retain custody as long as the child is in a safe environment.
Specifically, the bills would mandate that — unless the best interests of the child are being violated — the court shall not modify the current parenting time order if one of the parties has filed a motion of stay under the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
The measures were inspired after a Michigan judge in 2014 held a U.S. Navy petty officer in contempt of court and ordered his arrest after he failed to appear in court for a custody hearing, despite the fact that he was on duty aboard a submarine in the Pacific Ocean.
After lifting those orders under public pressure, the judge ordered the officer’s six-year-old daughter be temporarily removed from his custody while he remained on deployment, even though Michigan child protective services had removed the child from the mother’s home in 2010 due to neglect and reports of abuse.
“This is about protecting the rights of every man and woman in uniform, so that no service member will have to go through this ordeal again,” Jones said. “It is also about respecting military families and ensuring the best interest of the children. In the Michigan case, by placing the child in the mother’s care before the state had re-examined her fitness as a parent, the judge implied that someone serving his country was worse for a child than someone with a history of neglect.”