An Iowa Senate committee will take up a bill today that would protect a soldier’s rights in child custody cases. Senator Steve Warnstadt, a Democrat from Sioux City, is a member of the Iowa National Guard.
"This is a big issue for the people who are deploying," Warnstadt says, "making sure that they’ve got the certainty that they are going to be able to come back and still maintain their family." The bill was drafted in response to the case of Michael Grantham, an Iowa National Guardsman who lost custody of his children while he was serving on active duty. A court ruled his kids had settled into a new life with his ex-wife and refused to return custody of the kids to him once he returned home.
Warnstadt says the case has prompted some soldiers to leave the military rather than risk losing custody of their kids. "One of the concerns that I have heard from people who have left the military — they were in the Guard or they were in the Reserve — and they had heard of cases where servicemembers lost custody — and they just left the service and that’s not really in anyone’s best interest at this point."
If the bill Warnstadt’s promoting becomes law, a judge cannot permanently modify a child custody order while a service member is on active duty, nor can a soldier’s call to active duty because used as a reason for modifying custody arrangements when they return.
Warnstadt is a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard who served in Iraq during Desert Storm — during the first Bush Administration. He says giving soldiers some assurance their child custody arrangements won’t be changed while they’re on duty is not only good for the soldier.
"It’s a fairness issue for the service members, but it’s also a fairness issue for the people with whom they’re serving because anything that distracts them from their mission is a hazard to those around them," Warnstadt says. "…It’s also in many ways not fair to the child because it removes some of the predictability for the child as well." Kentucky, California and Michigan have taken the steps Warnstadt suggests Iowa take when it comes to an active duty soldier’s child custody rights.