Court Orders Stay In Active Military Status Child Custody Case

Another ruling has come down in the case involving the child custody rights of a father with active military status.

According to The Daily Telegram, The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Sept. 5 that no additional hearings are to be had in the case between Petty Officer Matthew Hindes and ex-wife Angela Hindes regarding the custody of their 6-year-old daughter. This order came in response to an appeal filed by an attorney for Matthew Hindes on Aug. 12, which alleged that Lenawee County Circuit Judge Margaret Noe was not applying a stay required under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

There have been several criticisms of Judge Noe in this case, including that she failed to require a check for military status before issuing a bench warrant for Hindes’ arrest. Hindes failed to show up for a custody hearing in June because he was serving aboard a submarine at the time. In situations like this, in which a servicemember is unable to attend a court hearing because of his or her active military status, a stay of no less than 90 days is generally required.

Noe issued such a stay on June 22 and canceled an order for Hindes to turn his daughter over to Angela Hindes or face arrest in accordance with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, according to the news source. However, Noe later made a ruling that included an unscheduled two-week visitation for Angela Hindes in a hearing on Aug. 4, prompting the representation for the Petty Officer to file an appeal.

Significant media attention has been attracted by this case for two reasons. First is a 2009 incident in which Angela Hindes lost custody of her daughter in relation with a child abuse investigation, the Telegram reported. Matthew Hindes was granted full custody in a 2010 divorce order – an order that Angela Hindes is now seeking to change.

The second is the increasing attention being paid to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Recent media events have demonstrated the public backlash that can result when organizations, individuals or institutions fail to comply with this law. While penalties will not be assessed in this case, the negative attention received can sometimes be just as damaging.

Court of Appeals ruling

Public documents show that the Court of Appeals ruled that the stay provision of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act applies in this case and that Hindes satisfied the requirements necessary to obtain a stay. Further, noting that Noe’s court entered an order to stay proceedings, the court found that it “erroneously continued to hold hearings on this matter relating to parenting time.”

“Only because [Matthew Hindes], through his trial counsel, has conceded [Angela Hindes]’s entitlement to parenting time in accordance with the trial court’s December 11, 2013 order, and … to other matters pertaining to the facilitation of parenting time,” the court wrote, “no other action is warranted at this time.”

In effect, the court has ruled that, while Noe’s order on Aug. 4 to grant an unscheduled two-week visitation was made erroneously, there is now no need to reverse the order because Matthew Hindes has already agreed to allow the visitation. However, the Court of Appeals entered specific language cautioning Noe’s trial court to refrain from holding any additional hearings on the matter until such time as the Matthew Hindes is granted leave from his active military status to make an appearance in court.

The language contained in the Court of Appeals’ ruling demonstrates the seriousness with which the legal system considers the provisions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. When dealing with persons who have active military status, it is essential that individuals, organizations and institutions check military status before pursuing actions that could potentially violate this act.

Attorney Roy Kaufmann serves as the Director of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Centralized Verification Service, located in Washington, D.C. As a recognized authority on the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, Mr. Kaufmann has published hundreds of articles and hosted many webinars. His teachings help law firms and businesses to remain compliant with the SCRA rules and regulations so as to avoid costly fines.