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New custody protections for troops in defense bill

New custody protections for troops in defense bill

When Kentucky guardsman Eva Slusher returned from her stateside deployment in 2004, she was welcomed home with news that she had lost custody of her daughter.

A decade later, she finally has hope that no service member will ever have to go through that again.

Tucked into this year’s annual defense authorization bill passed by Congress late last week is a provision preventing state judges from using military deployments against troops in child custody cases.

It’s the culmination of an eight-year fight for Slusher and Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, who both insist the change is needed to stop judges from using military service against troops in such court battles.

“It’s not that my military service wasn’t taken into consideration, or that I didn’t get some extra boost from my service,” Slusher said. “I’m not looking to be hailed as a hero because I served my country. I’m looking for not being penalized for military service. A judge now can’t say that the military lifestyle isn’t conducive to raising children.”

The authorization bill and new rules are expected to be signed into law by President Obama in the next few days. The rules mandate that child custody cases cannot be altered during a parent’s military deployment, and that any pre-deployment custody arrangements remain in place upon the parent’s return.

Exceptions can be made when the situation “goes against the best interest of the child,” but Turner said too often judges with little familiarity with the military have ruled that the uncertain nature of military deployments — especially during the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — made for a negative home environment in split families.

“In the end, this is about making sure that (troops) don’t serve at the expense of their families,” he said. “They deserve to be protected.”

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