Jones introduces bill to protect rights of active-duty military parents

LANSING—Sen. Rick Jones introduced legislation on Wednesday to ensure that active 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.

“This bill should not even be necessary,” said Jones, R-Grand Ledge. “Our servicemen and women, who put their lives on the line preserving our freedoms, should not fear losing custody of a child while they are on duty protecting the rights of all Americans.”

Senate Bill 1015 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 bill was inspired after a Michigan judge this summer held a U.S. Navy sailor in contempt of court and ordered his arrest after he failed to appear in court for a custody hearing, despite the fact that he is on duty aboard a submarine in the Pacific Ocean.

Matthew Hindes, a petty officer on the USS Michigan, was given custody of his daughter in 2010 following the child’s removal from the mother’s home by Michigan child protective services due to neglect and reports of abuse. His attorney asked for a stay in the case under the federal act, but a judge denied the request and ordered the child to be placed in the mother’s custody pending the outcome of a new custody petition.

“The actions of this judge were an insult to all servicemen and women. Thankfully – after much local and national public pressure – the judge accepted the request, delayed the proceedings and lifted the order,” Jones said. “My legislation is about filling in loopholes in the law so that no soldier, sailor, airman or Marine has to go through this type of ordeal while serving the nation.”

Under SB 1015, motions of stay could be filed at any point during the proceedings and would be required to be considered by the court. Jones’ bill also clarifies that a service member’s duration of deployment and POW or MIA status are not factors that can be considered when determining the best interest of the child.