Following the recent public opinion surrounding a court case in which an active-duty military dad came close to losing custody of his daughter because of his deployment on a submarine, state politicians are looking at ways to give more security to parents with military status. This case highlights the need for anyone who is working in a legal capacity to perform a military records search to avoid violating the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, introduced a bill to the Michigan Senate July 16 that would bar judges from making any changes to a custody or parenting agreement if one of the parents is an active-duty military member who has filed a motion to halt proceedings under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, according to MLive. The federal law already requires a temporary halt to court proceedings that involve active duty members of the armed forces, but this law would specifically target child custody cases in order to remove any ambiguity.
Under this law, Senate Bill 1015, motions of stay could be filed at any point in court proceedings and would have to be considered by the court, according to The Holland Sentinel. The bill also stipulates that the court cannot consider a servicemember’s duration of deployment, prisoner of war status or missing in action status when determining the best interest of the child.
The bill was inspired by a case involving U.S. Navy sailor Matthew Hindes, after a Michigan judge held the servicemember in contempt of court and ordered his arrest after he failed to show up for a court hearing, according to the news source. This resulted in public outcry, because not only was Hindes stationed in the Pacific Ocean, but his lawyer had already submitted documents from him and his commanding officer to that effect.
The importance of a military service verification search
The entire debacle could have been avoided had the Michigan judge performed a military service verification search, which would have resulted in her being better informed on the situation. This would have helped to avoid a public reaction and her to save face as a legal professional.
Court cases involving deployed service members must be delayed for up to 90 days when the soldier’s duty prevents him or her from attending.