CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Wednesday, May 30, 2012, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 4201, the Servicemember Family Protection Act, under a suspension of the rules, requiring a two-thirds majority for approval. The bill was originally introduced on March 16, 2012, by Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) and was referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The committee held a mark-up session on March 27, 2012, and ordered the bill to be reported by voice vote.
H.R. 3140 would amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to provide that if a court renders a temporary order for custodial responsibility for a child based solely on a deployment or anticipated deployment of a parent-servicemember, then the court shall require that upon the return of that servicemember from deployment the custody order that was in effect preceding such deployment shall be reinstated, unless the court finds that reinstatement in not in the child's best interest.
The bill would also prohibit a servicemember's deployment or possible deployment from being considered in the determination of a child's best interest in a motion seeking a permanent order to modify custody. The bill would provide that under a temporary custody order, if a state law provides a higher standard of protection to the deploying parent-servicemember, then the appropriate court shall apply the higher standard.
According to H. Rept. 112-488, “As our nation's servicemembers continue to endure deployments overseas, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act continue to protect their interests at home. Both Acts endeavor to ensure veterans and servicemembers' employment rights and civilian obligations are not affected by their commitment to the security of the United States. At its core, SCRA ensures that servicemembers have certain protections in the event that military service impedes their ability to meet certain financial and legal obligations.
With respect to one such legal obligation, the Committee is aware of the often difficult decisions facing courts regarding child custody when one or both parents may be a servicemember deployed abroad. Although the current SCRA covers everything from mortgages to cell phone contracts, it fails to provide one uniform framework for protecting servicemembers' rights under child custody actions by state courts.
In previous Congresses, the Committee received anecdotal evidence of servicemembers having to make the difficult decision of choosing between their military career and the legal custody of their children because of rulings made by courts that took their military service into account when assigning custody of the child. The Committee believes that servicemembers should never have to make this choice.
In a February 15, 2011, letter to Representative Michael Turner of Ohio, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates provided support for legislation that is appropriately crafted, ‘[t]hat provides Servicemembers with a federal uniform standard of protection in cases where it is established that military service is the sole factor involved in a child custody decision involving a Service member.’ The Committee believes that H.R. 4201 is appropriately crafted to fulfill this requirement.”
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that implementing H.R. 4201 would have no effect on the federal budget and enacting H.R. 4201 would not affect direct spending or revenues; therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures do not apply.