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Servicemember Family Protection Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. TURNER of Ohio. Mr. Speaker, unbelievably, across this country in family law courts, in States, our servicemembers stand before family law court judges who take custody away from our servicemembers upon their return from either, previously, Iraq or, now, Afghanistan based solely on the fact that they were away from their children serving their country.

Mr. Speaker, we should not have one arm of the government ordering our servicemembers to deploy and another arm of our government taking their children away from them based upon the fact that they were away servicing their country. One servicemember, Eva Slusher, who has been a champion of this issue, has said that she did not understand when she got back, by law, they had to give her her job back but, by law, no one had to return to her her child.

Servicemembers risk their lives in support of the contingency operations that keep our Nation safe. State courts should not be allowed to use a servicemember's previous deployments or the possibility of future deployments when making child custody determinations. State courts should not be allowed to use a servicemember's previous deployments or the possibility when making these child custody determinations.

Our bill would amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to protect servicemembers against this injustice by providing a uniform national standard. The lack of uniform laws creates uncertainty that adversely affects readiness and morale.

State laws differ on the question of whether deployment or the potential for future deployment can be used as a criterion for these courts, and many States have no laws at all. The difference in State laws provides an opportunity for ex-spouses to venue shop to find a State that will alter custody agreements. Many servicemember custody battles involve up to three States: the State of the original custody order, the State where the child is residing, and the State where the servicemember is stationed.

This bill creates a protective floor to ensure that all military parents can feel confident that their service to our country will not be used against them in our courts.

In supporting this legislation, Secretary Gates stated: ``I am convinced that the benefits outweigh the concerns and, thus, we should work with Congress to pursue an acceptable legislative formulation.''

The language of this bill has passed the House on seven separate occasions, and the bill has strong bipartisan support. I have a letter to Leon Panetta that is signed by every member of the House Armed Services Committee that I will enter into the Record.

Our men and women in uniform sacrifice a great deal to serve our country. We owe it to them to provide uniform legal standards regarding child custody. Our servicemen and -women should never be in the position of having to choose between their country and their family; or while they're on service, they should not have to worry what might happen to them when they return.


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