Senate panel unanimously approves Jones’ bill to protect rights of active-duty military parents

LANSING—The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones 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.

“America’s servicemen and women put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms and deserve to fulfill their service without fear of losing custody of a child while they are on duty,” said Jones, R-Grand Ledge. “It is truly sad that we are even having this discussion or that this legislation is necessary.”

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 U.S. Navy Petty Officer Matthew Hindes 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 recently ordered Hindes’ six-year-old daughter be temporarily removed from his custody while he remains on deployment.

Hindes 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 the judge held that the law allows her to temporarily place the child in the mother’s care pending the outcome of a new custody petition.

“The judge’s actions are insulting and imply that a parent serving his country is worse for a child than one with a history of neglect,” Jones said. “The child in this case was in no inherent danger. My legislation will ensure Michigan respects previous custody rulings while a parent is serving the nation overseas and fill in loopholes in the law so that no member of our armed forces has to go through this type of ordeal.”

SB 1015 now heads to the full Senate for consideration.