Senate committee approves Jones bill to protect active-duty military parents

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JonesLANSING—Sen. Rick Jones is working with Rep. Tom Barrett, a parent and Iraq War veteran, to protect the custody rights of America’s servicemen and women.

“Members of our armed forces, who risk their lives to protect our freedoms, deserve to fulfill their service without fear of losing custody of a child while they are on duty,” said Jones, R-Grand Ledge. “I am proud to be teaming up with Representative Barrett to stand up for active-duty military parents by filling in a loophole in state law that was exposed last year in an unfortunate and well-publicized case.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved Jones’ bill to ensure that active military parents are not punished for not appearing in court over custody disputes while serving overseas and that they would retain custody as long as the child is in a safe environment.

Senate Bill 9 would mandate that – unless the best interests of the child are being violated – the court shall not modify the current parenting time order if one of the parties has filed a motion of stay under the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

The bill was inspired after a Michigan judge in 2014 held a U.S. Navy petty officer in contempt of court and ordered his arrest after he failed to appear in court for a custody hearing, despite the fact that he was on duty aboard a submarine in the Pacific Ocean.

After lifting those orders under public pressure, the judge ordered the officer’s six-year-old daughter be temporarily removed from his custody while he remained on deployment, even though Michigan child protective services had removed the child from the mother’s home in 2010 due to neglect and reports of abuse.

“It think that it is truly sad that we are even having this discussion or that this legislation is necessary,” Jones said. “Placing the child in the mother’s care – before the state had re-examined her fitness as a parent – was insulting and implied that someone serving his country was worse for a child than someone with a history of neglect.”

SB 9 now heads to the full Senate for consideration.