Parents Serve Country But Lose Children

Parents Serve Country But Lose Children
May 6th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Parents Serve Country But Lose Children

Parents Serve Country But Lose Children
Tampa Tribune
May 6, 2007
By Pauline Arrillaga, Associated Press
She had raised her daughter for six years after the divorce, shuttling to soccer practice and cheerleading, making sure schoolwork was done. Then in 2003, Lt. Eva Crouch was mobilized with the Kentucky National Guard, and 9-year-old Sara went to stay with Dad.
A year and a half later, her assignment up, Crouch pulled into her driveway with one thing in mind - bringing home the little girl who shared her smile and blue eyes. She dialed her ex and said she'd be there the next day to pick Sara up, but his response sent her reeling.
"Not without a court order you won't."
Within a month, a judge would decide that Sara should stay with her dad. It was, he said, in "the best interests of the child."
What happened? Crouch was the legal residential caretaker; this was supposed to be temporary. What had changed? She wasn't a drug addict, or an alcoholic, or an abusive mother.
Her misstep, it seems, was answering the call to serve her country.
Crouch and an unknown number of others among the 140,000-plus single parents in uniform fight a war on two fronts: for the nation they are sworn to defend, and for the children they are losing because of that duty.
Law Doesn't Cover Custody
A federal law called the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is meant to protect them by staying civil court actions and administrative proceedings during military activation. They can't be evicted. Creditors can't seize their property. Civilian health benefits, if suspended during deployment, must be reinstated.
Yet service members' children can be - and are being - taken from them after they are deployed.
Some family court judges say that determining what's best for a child in a custody case is simply not comparable to deciding civil property disputes and the like; they have ruled that family law trumps the federal law protecting service members.
Even some supporters of the federal law say it should be changed - that soldiers should be assured that they can regain custody of children.
Military mothers and fathers speak of birthdays missed, bonds weakened, endless hearings.
Like Army Reserve Capt. Brad Carlson, fighting for custody of his American-born children after his marriage crumbled while he was deployed and his European wife refused to return to the States.
And like Eva Crouch, who spent two years and about $25,000 pushing her case through the Kentucky courts.
"I'd have spent a million," she said. "My child was my life. ... I go serve my country, and I come back and have to go through hell and high water."
Taking Advantage
In 1943, during World War II, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the soldiers' relief law should be "liberally construed to protect those who have been obliged to drop their own affairs to take up the burdens of the nation."
Shielding soldiers allows them "to devote their entire energy" to the nation's defense, the law itself states.
Child custody cases are different.
"The minute these guys are getting deployed, the other parent is going, 'I can do whatever I want now,'" said attorney Jean Ann Uvodich.
Military and family law experts don't know how big the problem is, but 5.4 percent of active duty members - more than 74,000 - are single parents, the Department of Defense reports. More than 68,000 Guard and reserve members are also single parents. Divorce among service personnel is rising.
Army reservist Brad Carlson lived in Phoenix with his wife, Bianca, and three kids before deploying to Kuwait in 2003.
A year later, his wife indicated she wanted to end the marriage and remain in Luxembourg, where she had moved the family and where her parents lived.
Carlson filed for divorce in Arizona, and later invoked the Servicemembers Act, but in vain. A Luxembourg court awarded custody to Bianca.
"I feel really betrayed," Carlson said.
States Tackling Issue
The solution, some say, lies in amending the federal law to specify that it does apply in custody cases.
Some states aren't waiting for congressional action.
In 2005, California enacted a law saying a parent's absence because of military activation cannot be used to justify permanent changes in custody or visitation.
Michigan and Kentucky followed suit, requiring that temporary changes made because of deployment revert back to the original agreement once deployment ends.
Similar legislation has been proposed in Florida, as well as in Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas and North Carolina.
Last year, the state Supreme Court cited Kentucky's new law in overturning the trial judge's decision granting custody of Sara to Charles Crouch.
In September, Eva Crouch got Sara back.
Remarried now, Crouch is expecting a baby in August. But with 18 years in the military, she knows she could be mobilized again.
One thing is clear to her now: Serving her country isn't worth losing her daughter.
"I can't leave my child again."

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