Some weeks ago we shared a story to highlight the family law issues that service people can sometimes face when they are called to duty. The case involves a Navy submariner who was facing a court summons and the threat of arrest in connection with a dispute related to child custody of the sailor’s 6-year-old daughter.
While the events are playing out in states other than Ohio, they could easily happen here and so we are watching the matter as it develops. One thing that makes the case particularly complex is the fact the sailor is currently based in Washington state, though he is currently at sea. The man’s ex-wife, the mother of the girl, lives in Michigan.
In the previous post the key issue was that a Michigan judge had threatened to jail the father for failing to appear in court for a child custody hearing. He was also under orders to produce the child. But since he is at sea until mid-October, he couldn’t comply and his attorney succeeded in getting a delay of all action citing the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
That law suspends legal proceedings that might impinge on the civil rights of service members. An Ohio lawmaker is a chief sponsor of the measure and says it is supposed to prevent just this kind of thing from happening.
The latest development in the case is that the Michigan court judge has issued another order. It requires that the child be turned over to her mother for an unscheduled two-week visitation. The father’s attorney is fighting the order pending a custody hearing currently set for two days after the sailor is due to be home.
Another complicating factor in this whole story is why the mother lost custody of the girl in the first place. According to records, the couple had divorced in 2009. In 2010, the father accused the mother and her then-boyfriend of child abuse and legal and physical custody of the girl went to the dad.
The mother pleaded no contest to the abuse charge and has served her sentence. Since August 2013 she has sought a custody modification and a reduction in child support payments she has been obliged to cover.
We suspect many in family law practitioners and those in the service are watching this case with interest.
Source: Army Times, “Deployed submariner loses a round in custody battle,” Lance M. Bacon, Aug. 16, 2014