Utah is leading the way on an issue that has been one of tremendous grief for far too many military parents – especially fathers – who are deployed for action overseas for extended periods of time.

From the article on HB401:

The bill, which passed nearly unanimously in the Utah Legislature, ensures that military members will not lose custody of their children to an ex-spouse while they’re deployed.

The balance of the article centers around the story of father Ben Frank, who was called up for deployment recently.  Mr. Frank is divorce with joint custody of two sons and his wife Tera also has two children from a previous marriage.  They have custody of the children from Ben’s earlier marriage a little over half of the total custodial time.

When Ben’s ex-wife learned that he would be transferring his parenting rights to Tera during his deployment, the ex-wife moved to have the custody agreement changed to give her full custody of the children during his absence.

The problem with that situation as we see it is that it would require the intervention of an unpredictable family court.  Further, there is no telling what we happen upon Ben’s return and certainly no guarantee that his parental rights would be returned to him without another expensive visit to family court.  Additionally, we presume that the children have a relationship with their step-mother and step-siblings which deserve to be preserved as well.  Finally, it is a reasonable expectation that Tera would do best in helping to maintain contact between the boys and their father in whatever capacity that the military would allow under such conditions.  In our opinion, everybody wins in just such an arrangement.

More from the article:

“When a military service member is deployed or mobilized overseas, it helps to not have the constant concern, the constant worry, the constant anxiety of the safety and the security of their children while they’re at home,” Cosgrove said. “(The bill will) ensure what was in order before they left is also in order while they’re gone and when they return home.”

Well, fast-forwarding to August 2009, Ben Frank’s ex-wife dropped pursuit of a formalized change in custody. We believe this is the best decision for all involved and that leaving things as they are will limit the amount of upset that will be taking place in the children’s lives with their father’s deployment.

It is no secret that some of the most disregarding and disrespected of fathers in our family court system come from the military. While overseas serving in wars on behalf of the freedom of ourselves and/or others – on the home front, the overwhelming majority of states don’t provide any protection for them when their spouse chooses to file for divorce or move to alter custody arrangements in his absence. Oftentimes, that divorce is granted. Oftentimes, he doesn’t even know about it until he comes home from combat to find that he’s lost his family, his children, his home, and all of his other assets.  In the worst cases – he’s a fugitive from justice for failure to pay child support while in combat and his credit is destroyed.  Too often, there is little in the way of help he can get to undo all of the damage.

Federal Laws have made some strides in this regard, but it isn’t quite as clear as the Utah Law has made things.

For example:

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act provides that – if a parent moves with a child(ren) to a new state, that new state becomes the child’s presumptive residence after six months.

Unfortunately, the grim reality for military personnel is that deployments for war are often much longer than 6-months. In effect, a military spouse can move to another state while her spouse is deployed, divorce him, and then be almost guaranteed to gain custody of the child(ren) through the divorce proceedings in the new state. All of this is done in his absence. All of this is done while he is in no position to fight it. All of this is done with the help and because of the insanity of our Family Court System.

There is almost nothing an enlisted man can do to stop it, either. Though the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act affords military personnel some small measures of protection while they are deployed (unavailable prior to 2003), the devastating impact on such circumstances is resulting in ever-increasing numbers of suicides by military personnel who are left homeless, without their children, with unreasonable child support orders, and in poverty because a wife decided to cut & run with the children, the money, the assets – everything – while he was deployed during war.

For the full article about Utah’s new law: Utah Law is a Big Relief for Military Families