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House OKs Military Child Custody Bill - Thomas' HB 334

Thomas’ HB 334 ensures courts have clear directives when dealing

with deploying family member in custody

Thursday, March 25, 2010, Juneau, Alaska – The Alaska State House today unanimously passed House Bill 334, legislation providing new directives and restrictions for the court system to follow in child custody cases when one parent or family member is, or will be, deployed. House Finance Committee Vice-Chair Bill Thomas, R-Haines, sponsored the bill.

“A deploying family member should not have to prepare for a battle on two fronts, one in theater and the other at home,” Thomas said. “The court system is finding it difficult to balance deployment with the child’s best interest, so HB 334 provides them with clear directives and definitions. The pressures of military life and deployment already put a strain on our servicemen and women, not to mention the children and family support involved. The bill is a priority of the Veterans Caucus that I and Senator Charlie Huggins co-chair, and we’re thankful my peers in the House passed it out.”

Allowance of expedited hearings, with some restrictions

- The right to delegate visitation to another family member

- Allowance for electronic testimony

- Limitations on temporary custody orders

“Most importantly, HB 334 requires that a court not consider deployment when determining child custody; the Best Interest of the Child is the prevailing guideline, nothing will happen unless it is in the best interest of the child,” Thomas said. “Our men and women are sacrificing enough for our country; their military service should not be a reason in itself for them to lose custody of their children. My personal priority, as a veteran, is also on the mental stability of the soldier – we don’t want someone in theater or service having to deal with the mental and physical strain, we want them to be fully-engaged and prepared.”

The bill has been heralded by military family rights advocates as model legislation for other states to follow. The American Bar Association also supports states passing similar laws, approving a resolution urging states to enact legislation prohibiting denial of child custody to a service member based solely on absence due to military deployment.

HB 334 now heads to the Alaska State Senate for consideration.

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