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Lawmaker: Shield deployed military parents from custody changes

Members of the armed services should be able to serve overseas without fearing that courts will change their child custody agreements while they’re away, a state lawmaker said.

“What happens is that, for some of these families, they’re actually losing custody of their children while they’re deployed,” said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix.

She authored SB 1283, which would, among other provisions, prohibit courts from making final decisions on changes to custody rights until 90 days after a parent returns from deployment.

The Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee unanimously endorsed the bill Tuesday, sending it to the floor by way of the Rules Committee.

Sinema, whose district includes the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center, said she received calls about deployed service members losing custody of children or having their custody rights altered while on deployment.

Ninety days would allow a parent who’s returning from deployment to get settled, find an attorney and go to court, she said.

“The bill is designed to ensure that individuals who serve in active duty in our military are not forced to make choices between serving their country and taking care of their families,” Sinema said.

Sinema’s bill would also prohibit courts from considering a parent’s absence due to a deployment as a sole deciding factor for changes in custody.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, which worked with Sinema on crafting the bill, 34 states have laws dealing with child custody and-or visitation issues stemming from military deployments.

Sen. Adam Driggs, R-Phoenix, chairman of the Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, said the bill is important because broken families are an unfortunate reality of military deployments.

“While they are serving us overseas, we cannot add to their burden wondering what’s going to happen when they’re not [here] to defend their rights as parents,” Driggs said.

Sinema said the past several years have made the need for such a law increasingly clear.

“Many military members are serving lengthened terms of deployment, so these kind of issues become even more important during lengthened deployment or unexpected deployment,” she said.

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