around the bar
May 26, 2010

Department of Defense Report on Child Custody Supports ABA Policy

A report on child custody concerns involving military parents presented to the U.S. House and Senate Committees on the Armed Forces by the Department of Defense supports ABA policy on military child custody.

Issued on May 14, the report emphasizes that while a change of temporary duty, mobilization or deployment should not in and of itself justify a permanent change of custody, the states are in the best position to balance the potentially competing interests of the child and the service-member parent.

The report further points out that child custody cases involve complex fact patterns and are extremely fact sensitive, stating “Few of the patterns repeat themselves from case to case, calling into question the effectiveness of ‘one size fits all’ legislation that fails to comprehensively deal with the many issues presented in child custody determinations.”

The report acknowledges support on the issue from the Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel and the Military Law Committee of the Family Law Section.

It also highlights the work of the Military Pro Bono Project, a joint project of the LAMP Committee and the Section of Litigation. The report notes that the secretary of defense, in a letter dated September 25, 2009, indicated he would direct the military department judge advocates general and the staff judge advocate of the Marine Corps to ensure they are doing all they can to work with the Military Pro Bono Project.

During its first 18 months of operation, the project assisted 183 service members by providing free civilian counsel to help with a variety of legal issues.  Family law matters accounted for 121 of the 183 referrals.