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Custody can be a battle for soldiers

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Posted: Sunday, December 16, 2007 12:00 pm | Updated: 4:54 pm, Wed Aug 15, 2012.

By Justin Cox

Killeen Daily Herald

A child's life becomes much more complicated following a divorce, but particularly so in Bell County.

The civil court system is filled with child-custody cases, but when single-parent soldiers get deployed, they voluntarily relinquish their rights as primary custody holder to another person.

While provisions are often built into the divorce decrees, requests to modify those orders have filled the courtrooms in Bell County, especially recently as the Army re-enters into the deployment cycle.

Judge Gordon Adams, 169th District Court judge, is one of four Bell County judges who hear custody cases involving deployed soldiers. He said such a case occurs just about every week.

"The deployment issue that has happened over the past several years affects family law on a weekly basis here," Adams said Friday. "We are constantly dealing with motions to modify prior orders to take care of issues of possession while the primary custodian is overseas."

When the primary conservator status is temporarily lifted due to a deployment, Adams said every factor must be weighed in evaluating the best outcome for the child. A conservator is typically the primary care-giver who makes decisions regarding education and residence for a child.

The cases become even more complicated when dealing with divorced parents living in another state, and the court must rule on cases in which no generalities apply. Do they rule in favor of a child leaving the state? What if the child enjoys living in the other environment, but doesn't yet have the legal right to declare preference?

Adams said every case is unique, and decisions on custody are impossible to generalize.

One such case, filed Dec. 7, came from Timothy Glass, who lives in Fayetteville, N.C., who is suing his ex-wife, Mercedes Glass, for custody of their 3-year-old daughter. Mercedes was granted the primary conservator status in an uncontested divorce finalized June 7, 2006. The couple was married Aug. 1, 2003.

On Saturday, Mercedes deployed to Iraq. Now, her ex-husband is attempting to gain full custody of the child.

Killeen attorney Dan Corbin, who is representing Mercedes Glass, said he believes soldiers should not lose primary custody of their children because of their obligation to military service.

"I would like the Texas Legislature to define voluntary relinquishment," Corbin said Friday.

Corbin said the Texas Legislature needs to examine section 156 of the Family Code and change it to provide a safeguard for deployed soldiers in custody cases so that temporary custody does not become permanent.

On Thursday, the case for the custody battle will be heard in court for the first time by Judge Fancy Jezek of the 426th District Court.

Jezek's signed order to appear states that both parties will be appointed temporary joint managing conservators of the child while Mercedes is deployed.

Corbin said he is confident Jezek will not grant primary conservator status to Timothy Glass based solely on the military requirements of the mother, and that the question of full custody will be delayed until after she gets back. But still, Corbin said he feels there needs to be a provision in the law defining the relationship of military deployment when it pertains to voluntary relinquishment.

Though the divorce decree did not specify what happens if there is a deployment, Corbin said the family care plan of the Army designates Timothy Glass as the conservator during the deployment.

Judge Adams said the Service Members Relief Act helps protect soldiers during deployment, as well as from being punished by their military service.

The safeguards are in place, but Corbin said he doesn't believe the redundancies offer complete protection; soldiers in many parts of the state are at risk of losing their children every time they deploy, even if that risk is small.

He said that if there was a law, then Timothy Glass never would have been able to file a petition to modify the parent-child relationship in the first place.

"It gets much more complicated when, right before a deployment, one party comes in and files a motion to modify," Adams said. "And many times, they are looking to change it (custody) on a more permanent basis."

Contact Justin Cox at jcox@kdhnews.com or call (254) 501-7568

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