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Marriage in the Military: Decision Making In Marriage
Marriage in the Military: Child Support and Custody


About the Author

Gene Thomas Gomulka is a retired Navy Chaplain with over 30 years of pastoral and military experience. Having received the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award from the Secretary of the Navy "for literary achievement and inspirational leadership," his goal is to promote better military marriages. To learn more about his recent works, The Survival Guide for Marriage in the Military, and his Marriage and Military Life inventory for dating and married couples, visit the Survival Guide for Marriage in the Military Website.

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By Captain Gene Thomas Gomulka

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Dear Gene-Thomas, In a recent article you addressed the problem involving the need to reduce child support payments when a reservist is recalled and his salary is greatly decreased. Are you familiar with a bill that may soon be signed in California that addresses this issue and that, hopefully, will lead other states to follow their lead? ...



Dear Rob,

After applauding Missouri in my column for passing a law that protects Reservists and Guard Members from child support arrears as they go from high-paying civilian jobs to lower pay on the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan, I recently learned that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may soon sign a bi-partison supported bill (SB 1082) that would protect individuals with current custody orders in addition to fair child support protection that does not punish activated or deployed parents who can no longer exercise their parenting time.

In a press release providing historical background to this pending California legislation, Erik Espe wrote: “Under family court law, child support orders aren't reduced unless the obligor (usually the dad who is under a support order) files for a modification of the order. This can take months. But Reservists and Guardsmen sent to Iraq don't have months to prepare for the move (or the lower-paying job they will have on the front lines). Unable to change their orders until they get back a year or more later, they sometimes return home to face arrest for child support they can't afford to pay. Or they discover they no longer have any access to their children, because of a family court hearing initiated by a vindictive ex-spouse, one they were unable to attend while they fought for their country.”

The pending legislation addresses both the modification of child support payments and child custody orders. Michael Robinson, a lobbyist on family court issues in California who spearheaded the bill through the California Assembly and Senate, appears to have been successful in convincing California legislators that when military personnel are sent to potentially face death in Iraq, it is grossly unfair to allow ex-spouses to take advantage of this situation by filing suit for custody of the children when deployed service members are in no position to fight for their rights in court.

The bill (SB 1082), authored by Senators Bill Morrow and Denise Ducheny, is much more comprehensive in its protection than legislation pending in states like New York in that it also protects individuals with current custody orders in addition to fair child support protection that does not punish an activated or deployed parent who can no longer exercise their parenting time.

While supporters of the bill are pleased with this pending legislation, they believe it could have been even far more comprehensive had it not been for problems with federal law that restrict the extent of protection a state can offer. Because of the Bradley Amendment, a child support order can only be modified retroactively to the date of a filing of a petition. In so far as many reservists are called up on short notice and are not able to file a petition for a reduction in their monthly child support amount before they are deployed, they can return with arrearages, penalties and interest that cannot be forgiven.

While we can applaud states like Missouri and California for addressing this issue that may already be impacting Reserve recruitment, it would be good for other states across the country to follow their lead and for Congress to hold hearings on amending federal laws like the Bradley Amendment that affect family law courts.

According to Michael Robinson, “the family law issue may even be having an impact on military enlistment. There is nothing quite as demoralizing as enlisting, then having a child support order hiked up or losing your children while you're serving your country overseas.” The Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, and Army National Guard will all not make goal for recruiting both officers and enlisted this fiscal year. Despite bigger bonuses, more advertising and a larger recruiting force, the Navy Reserve only made 54 percent of July's goal for enlisted accessions.

Anyone interested in issues involving child support and child custody and SB 1082 in particular may wish to contact Michael Robinson at: fastcars@surewest.net . As a civilian lobbyist involved in family court issues and concerned for our military personnel, Robinson said that “ men and women in our military are going into harm's way to cover our backs and the least we can do is cover theirs. There is no danger for us to do so. For them, it's their lives at stake. We can't let special interests get in the way, or allow politics to dictate or impede elected officials at all levels from doing the right thing. We have to act now, not later.”

Gene-Thomas Gomulka

Columnist and author whose books are available at www.plaintec.net

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Have a question? Write Gene Gomulka at letters@plaintec.net

© 2005 Gene Thomas Gomulka. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Military.com.


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