Challenges and Opportunities for Veterans in Child Custody Cases
Thank you, Veterans, for your service. We’re so proud and grateful for the opportunity to represent a number of mothers, fathers and relative caregivers who serve or have served in the United States military.
Each challenge in Child Custody presents an opportunity to rise to the occasion, to show resolve and fortitude. Certainly, our nation’s veterans have shown such qualities in their service careers and on the battlefield, but returning home to the varied responsibilities of and, perhaps less structured, day-to-day operations of civilian life can provide its own, different set of challenges, especially in Child Custody.
Mental and Physical Health Issues
To gauge and examine the myriad issues facing our veterans as a result of their service is far outside our expertise and the scope of this article. There are a few fundamental things to consider.
Often we gravitate towards thinking of Child Custody issues in terms of “fault,” e.g., someone chose to start using drugs or have an affair. Those issues are relevant both in Divorce and Child Custody, but certainly no one and no Court should hold it against a veteran that they’re dealing with mental health issues on any level, significant or otherwise. But, it’s important to understand that the Court’s first duty is to the health, safety and welfare of the child(ren) involved. Just like if a significant physical impairment prevented a parent from being as effective for a child as possible, the Court must similarly consider mental health issues, regardless of the cause of those issues.
The Other Side does and should bear the initial burden of “injecting” the issue of any physical or mental impairment. There has to be a nexus between the condition identified and a parent’s ability to care and control his or her children. The Other Side doesn’t get to just to point a finger and yell “PTSD” and that mean anything by itself. The Courts should do everything within their discretion to eradicate the stigma of mental health issues, not join the Other Side in reinforcing them.
The key for veterans dealing with health issues as they relate to Child Custody proceedings will be to maximize the resources available to them through federal and state governments, private service providers and peer groups then following the protocols and recommendations of the professionals involved. Ignoring difficult issues and saying “I’m fine” is not an effective option.
Income and Education
There are lawyers out there that specialize in helping our nation’s veterans get the benefits they deserve, ranging from a steady income through VA disability or retirement or the opportunity for professional development and education through the GI Bill, inter alia.
These programs, though, do not completely insulate our veterans from financial and other obligations that arise in Child Custody and Child Support proceedings.
One key distinction, for example, will be whether a financial benefit is paid to a provider, such as an educational institution through the GI bill, or directly to the veteran or service member, like a housing allowance. Funds that flow directly to the veteran are more readily attachable and might be garnished before they can be utilized by the beneficiary, regardless of their source.
Even if financial benefits are paid directly to an institution or other provider the Court may still consider that as income for the purposes of calculating Child Support. It is entirely possible that a Court could “impute” the wage a veteran might be able to earn rather than delaying the assessment of support while a veteran completes his or her education.
Again, the lodestar for the family courts will be the best interests of the children involved. However, the Court will weigh and balance the interests of the parents, fundamental fairness and the long term benefit to all parties and the children of short term reinvestment in a veterans’ earning potential versus the long-term benefit.
These issues are immensely complex, and we’re glad to help veterans navigate these issues once we have the opportunity to learn more about their families’ unique circumstances.
It’s difficult for some veterans to discuss or even think about their difficult experiences in service and combat. However, family courts have a duty to consider all relevant information in determining what Child Custody, Visitation and Child Support terms are ordered in service of the best interests of the children involved.
That does not mean that our veterans are not entitled to some degree of privacy when dealing with Child Custody issues. It’s not “open season” on any information the Other Side wants to try to dig up.
Privacy laws, as well as the rules of Discovery and Evidence, will set parameters for the Court to decide what information the Other Side will or won’t be able to access.
~ Thank you, veterans. Please know that our team at Foxtrot Family Law are doing everything we can to preserve and enforce the freedoms you fought to protect.
This article contains general information and should not be construed as legal advice for you and or your unique situation. If you would like to speak more about how you, as a Committed Parent or Caring Relative, can be more effective in your Child Custody case, please visit www.ThinkFoxtrot.com/public_calendars/ to schedule your initial consultation at one of our offices. ~SW, Foxtrot