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Service member loses child custody when deployed to Afghanistan

In Texas and elsewhere, child custody can be a difficult right to enforce for active members of the military. One father serving in Afghanistan recently lost custody of his 11-year-old son, who has been living with him and his family for nine years. The child custody court that heard the case nine years ago decided that it was in the best interest of the boy for him to be in the custody of his father. 

However, a court recently granted custody to the mother because the father was deployed to Afghanistan. The judge reportedly neglected the serviceman's case until the man was deployed and then quickly took up the mother's case for custody. With the father away, the child custody judge presumably ruled that it would be a danger for the child to not be in the mother's care.

That decision ignored that the boy had lived with his two siblings and stepmother, along with the father for the past nine years. The case is now on appeal to the Supreme Court of Oklahoma. The puzzling aspect of the case is that there is both federal and state law that protects the custody position of the parent who has custody if that parent is deployed to active service.

The law requires that there be a dangerous situation faced by the child before the court can change the existing custody status. Thus, it is contemplated by the law that the service member's child will remain with the service member's family unless there are dire circumstances. As always in Texas, the best interest of the children does govern in child custody cases, but the statute attempts to protect both the service member and the child from abrupt, unnecessary disruptions of child custody arrangements. This will not be the first time that a family law judge was unaware of the protections for military parents with respect to custody law.

Source:, "Deployed soldier loses child", Dan Pennington, Dec. 28, 2017

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