Georgia residents who have served or are serving in the armed forces may be interested in a bill recently passed by the U.S. House. The bill, which easily passed by a vote of 390-2, would add precautions to prevent members of the armed forces from losing custody of their children solely because of a military deployment.

While the child custody bill, titled the Servicemember Family Protection Act, enjoyed lopsided support in the House, it will likely receive a much less friendly reception in the Senate due to a wide spectrum of opponents.

That list of opponents includes Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the American Bar Association, the National Military Family Association, as well as many experienced family law attorneys across the country.

According to critics, the bill would unnecessarily add an extra layer of judicial review above and beyond what state courts already provide by creating a right to federal court review for military custody cases. In other words, they say, custody cases would be subject to double jurisdiction, first in state court and possibly again in federal court, if the state court decided against the service member. Creating a right to federal review, these opponents contend, would only add time and expense to an already lengthy and pricy process.

Moreover, critics argue that the bill would produce undesirable outcomes. It would result in federal court judges, who have limited family law experience, deciding important child custody cases. Likewise, they argue, it would place a thumb on the scales in favor of service members instead of the best interests of their children.

Rep. Mike Turner, who introduced the bill, disagrees. In his view, the bill simply guarantees that men and women who serve in the military do not lose custody of their children solely on the basis of that service. Beyond ensuring that, Turner says the bill would not alter any other part of the normal custody process.

Those who object to the measure note that it has passed the House several times in the past seven years, only to die in the Senate. They say they expect that to happen this time, too.

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