Many members of our nation's military call New Jersey home. But for a significant number of those soldiers, home is often far away. It goes without saying that extended deployments overseas are difficult, but they can become even more so when a service member must deal with a child custody issue.
According to some, family law courts will disfavor absent parents in a custody dispute, even if the parent is away serving our country. In response, a number of states have passed laws that attempt to even the playing field for military personnel who have been abroad for many months at a time. While the laws are well-intentioned, they inevitably differ to varying degrees. This can lead to confusion when a custody issue stretches across state lines.
One solution would be to craft a federal law that would provide a nationwide framework on the issue. In fact, such a bill has been in the works for many years, but has repeatedly failed to earn the approval of the Senate. Another solution is offered by the Uniform Law Commission, a group of attorneys that drafts comprehensive model legislation on a variety of subjects. Once the ULC creates and approves a model code, it offers it to the states, which can adopt it in whole, in part, or can reject it outright at their discretion.
The ULC is aiming to create a model set of laws that would apply to custody matters involving service members so that custody disputes would not only become fairer, but also more predictable. Commission members have criticized the federal legislation, arguing that custody is a state law issue, and to add a layer of federal law to it would needlessly complicate matters.
The ULC has not yet given final approval to its draft, which draws on the best aspects of many states' laws, according to one commission lawyer. Once the draft is ready to be presented to state legislatures, it will be important to see whether New Jersey considers and adopts it.
Source: Associated Press, "US panel: Improve child custody rules for military," Kristin M. Hall, July 18, 2012.
• Child custody, relocation and visitation can be difficult and emotional issues to deal with in a divorce. If you would like more information about our firm's family law practice, please visit our Kingston child custody page.