Jones standing up for sailors serving overseas during custody disputes

LANSING—A Michigan judge recently 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.

The attorney for Matthew Hindes, a petty officer currently assigned to the USS Michigan, asked for a stay in the case under the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which provides a 90-day stay in civil court proceedings if military service affects a member’s ability to participate. Lenawee County Circuit Judge Margaret M.S. Noe denied the request and ordered that the child be placed in the mother’s custody pending the outcome of a new custody petition.

In response, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Rick Jones announced Friday that he is having legislation drafted to prevent this type of action from being taken against any American serviceman or woman.

“The actions of this judge are a slap in the face to all servicemen and women, who put their lives on the line protecting America,” said Jones, R-Grand Ledge. “If a soldier has full custody of a child, then he or she should retain that custody while serving the nation.”

Hindes was given custody of his daughter in 2010 after she was removed from Angela Hindes’ home by Michigan Department of Human Services’ Child Protective Services. An October 2010 divorce judgment gave him permanent custody, but Angela Hindes petitioned for a change in the custody order in August last year.

“The fact is that this child was removed from her mother’s care due to neglect and reports of abuse by the mother’s boyfriend,” Jones said. “The 6-year-old girl lives happily with her father and stepmother in Washington, yet a judge is ordering that she be placed with a mother who was previously ruled unfit, because the father’s ‘crime’ was serving America. It’s unbelievable.”

Jones said that his legislation would ensure that servicemen and women are not punished for not appearing in court while serving overseas and that they would retain custody as long as the child is in a safe environment.

“It is sad that this bill is even necessary,” Jones said. “Our sailors and soldiers should not fear losing their rights while they are protecting the rights of all Americans.”