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Child custody arrangements for military members under discussion

The standard rule in determining child custody in Michigan is that the best interests of the child should be served, based on multiple factors set by state law. However, a proposed bill seeks to add a federal layer of protection to that determination.

The U.S. House recently passed a bill (H.R. 4201) that protects service members from losing custody of their children because of military deployments. Commentators do not believe the bill will pass in the U.S. Senate, however.

Although proponents of the bill argue that service members should not have to worry that future deployment might cost them the custody of their children, a 2-year study by the U.S. Department of Defense suggests that such fears may be misplaced. The study found no evidence that service members were losing custody of their children solely because of their military service.

Opponents of the bill also argue that it would create a right of federal court review in military custody cases, which, in turn, might result in increased legal costs and potentially bring custody disputes before judges having no prior family law experience. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also opposes the bill in its current form, believing it could be misconstrued by state courts as permission to subordinate the best interests of the child to an adult service member's preferences.

Ultimately, the issue may be resolved without federal intervention. Currently 40 states have also passed legislation that says deployment cannot be used as the sole factor in custody issues. Instead, a 12-factor test is used by family law courts in Michigan, involving multiple inquiries into the arrangements that will best suit a child. Military service members with children may already have the option to prepare standardized pre-deployment family care plans, which provide for care arrangements in the event of deployment.

While no divorce is easy, divorce and custody matters involving members of the military and their dependents are often very challenging. An attorney can help you develop and put in place custody and visitation arrangements that are in the best interests of your minor children, while protecting your rights as a parent.

Source: The Herald, "Military child custody bill has its detractors," Tom Philpott, June 11, 2012

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