The unfortunate reality is that many of the brave men and women who serve in our nation’s armed forces don’t come home to ticker tape parades or other warm welcomes after completing their service overseas. Indeed, some come home to find themselves facing unexpected legal challenges, particularly in the area of family law.
By way of illustration, consider the experience of a Florida woman who was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan for nearly four years, and found herself at the epicenter of a complex child custody battle upon her return.
The mother, who joined the Army back in 2009 when her kids were just 7 and 8 years old, found herself having to deal with a “family situation” shortly after her first deployment to Iraq that resulted in a divorce from an otherwise unstable husband and her leaving the two children in the custody of her stepmother.
However, at some point during the course of the deployment, the stepmother moved with the children — and without legal permission — to New Jersey, where state officials ultimately assumed care of the boy and girl, placing them in foster care after it became clear the stepmother could not provide for their mental health needs.
Upon the mother’s honorable discharge and return to the U.S., she attempted to regain custody of her children, but was informed by a New Jersey judge that this could only happen if Florida’s Department of Children and Families agreed to continue providing the necessary services for the children.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Florida DCF disputed this requirement, making the mother’s chances of being reunited with her children even more slim.
In recent developments, however, a conference hearing was held earlier this week attended by judges and DCF officials from both states. Here, both sides agreed to enter into an interstate compact, in which the Florida DCF promised to provide the requested services to the children.
The mother, who now owns a home and has a job, was understandably thrilled by the outcome and anxious to be reunited with her kids, something the judges indicated should happen in weeks as opposed to months.
While the outcome of this story was certainly encouraging, it also serves to underscore just how complex child custody matters can become. As such, anyone with child custody questions or concerns should strongly consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about their rights and their options.