(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Herb Conaway, Jr. M.D. and Troy Singleton that would ensure parents serving in the Armed Forces who are involved in custody cases are not disadvantaged by certain military absences received final legislative approval on Monday and now heads to the governor’s desk.
The bill (A-2164) would address child custody and parenting time arrangements in the event of prolonged military service absences of 30 or more days by service members, based upon: (1) deployments for combat or other operations, training duty, or attendance at a military service school, or (2) service-related treatments due to a service injury, illness, or other health condition.
“Custody cases should revolve around what’s truly best for the child, and that should include fairness for a parent on active military duty or who is being treated for a service-related injury,” said Conaway (D-Burlington). “All this does is ensure a parent isn’t penalized by serving in the military. Our veterans make enough sacrifices. The opportunity to be involved with their children should not be one of them.”
“Custody cases are difficult enough for the parties involved. Punishing one parent because he or she is away on active military duty or recovering from an injury is not only unfair, it’s wrong,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “We want the courts to make decisions that are in the best interest of the child. A parent’s military service should not be the only factor when deciding how much time they get to spend with their child.”
The bill would provide that a court must not consider the prolonged, service-related absence or potential absence of a military service member as a factor in determining the best interest of a child when making a determination concerning child custody or parenting time. In addition, the court would be required to expedite, to the extent possible, a determination on an application by a service member or the other parent or caretaker for a child, concerning a child custody or parenting time arrangement in any case in which there is no existing child custody or parenting time order and the service member has received official written notice of deployment or service-related treatment from the military.
During the period of deployment or treatment, a court would be prohibited from modifying any judgment or order concerning child custody or parenting time, or issuing a new order that changes an existing child custody arrangement that was in place prior to the service member’s departure, without the consent of all parties, except when the court finds it to be in the best interests of the child.
The bill was approved 76-0 by the Assembly on Monday and 39-0 by the Senate in June.