As the summer rolls on to July, American thoughts traditionally turn toward celebration of our original 13 colonies’ Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in 1776.
Historically, our country has observed the Fourth of July with patriotic displays praising our nation’s heritage, laws, history, society and people. Celebrations often include praise for the efforts of service members throughout American history as well as those engaged in current operations in support of U.S. national security and public safety.
A sad consequence that is endured with alarming frequency by our nation’s military and first responder communities is to find that their service is often used against them during separation or divorce proceedings, resulting in the imposition of onerous parenting plans in family court.
Military and first-response personnel often endure long periods of duty under dangerous and stressful conditions. Adversarial co-parents find these job requirements to be fertile ground for justifying the loss of parental rights by our nation’s emergency response personnel.
Kentucky’s recent House Bill 528, which will create the nation’s first state law presuming 50/50 shared parenting when it goes into effect this month, includes a lesser-known provision. Said provision ensures that any court-ordered temporary modification of a child custody decree, based in whole or in part on the active duty of a parent as a member of the Armed Forces deployed outside the United States — or federal active duty of a parent as a member of a state National Guard or a Reserve component — shall be temporary and shall revert back to the previous permanent child custody decree at the end of the deployment or the federal active duty, as appropriate.
This is welcome news for the children of service members to help ensure that one parent’s temporary duty doesn’t result in the permanent loss of parenting time; it doesn’t go far enough, however, to protect the parental relationships of children blessed with parents engaged in full-time public service.
Another consequence of military and first response service is powerful mental and emotional stress that frequently requires treatment.
In family court, a public servant who has sought therapy for this sort of stress is penalized by opposing parties who seek to use the after-effects of their service as justification to limit parenting time. The same ex-partners who usually celebrated their ex’s service and profited from the increased pay and benefits accruing to those service members who perform extra duty too often use the foreseeable consequences of that service to assert increased control that degrades their children’s relationships with their service member parent.
While National Guard, Reserve and first-responder personnel usually live in closer proximity to their former partners, active-duty military personnel are often “stranded” as they finish their service contracts at units and bases far from their original home of record after former partners have taken the children and returned to homes across the country and occasionally overseas.
As a matter of public policy, this special population of alienated parents and children needs enhanced protections at the federal level due to the inability of far-flung state courts to adequately address the unique circumstances faced by these children and their parents.
July is thus an especially fitting month for shared parenting advocates in the United States to reflect on the National Parents Organization’s mission to “improve the lives of children and strengthen society by protecting every child’s right to the love and care of both parents after separation or divorce … seek(ing) better lives for children through family court reform that establishes equal rights and responsibilities for fathers and mothers.”
As we celebrate our nation, its service personnel and American parents this July, it’s vital that shared parenting advocates focus their legislative efforts on these special classes of children and their parents in order to ensure that those who serve our communities and our nation don’t have to choose between continued service and their responsibilities as parents.
Rob Holdsworth is the Kentucky Legislative Liaison for The Fathers’ Rights Movement and a retired veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.