Legislation introduced by Senator Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove to enact sweeping changes to State law concerning custody arrangements for military personnel was signed into law today by Governor Chris Christie.
“The parental rights of our servicemen and women will be more effectively safeguarded under the law by the provisions of our legislation which the Governor signed,” said Senator Connors. “It is simply unacceptable to allow a servicepersons deployment or their service-related treatment to be used against them in child custody arraignment disputes. Having been thoroughly vetted through the legislative process, the law carefully balances protecting servicepersons’ parental rights while also ensuring the best interests of the child are being served. When it is deemed necessary, a court is now permitted under the law to appoint a guardian ad litem, an attorney, or both to represent the child’s interests concerning custody or parenting time.”
The 9th District Delegation’s enacted legislation (S-1051/A-634) provides that the court, whenever making a determination concerning child custody or parenting time, will not consider the absence or potential absence of a service member parent by reason of deployment with the U.S. Military or treatment for sustained injuries as a factor in determining the best interest of the child. Further, the court will be prohibited from modifying or amending any judgment or order concerning child custody or parenting time, or issuing a new order changing a custody arrangement while the servicemember parent is deployed, unless it is in the best interest of the child.
Presently, there are seven military bases in New Jersey, and 64 National Guard armories in 42 communities. Senator James Beach, who serves as Chairman of the Senate Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee, was co-prime on the veterans’ legislative initiative.
Assemblyman Rumpf remarked, “Essential to ensuring that the parental rights protections are recognized is that our legislation specifically stipulates that New Jersey retains exclusive jurisdiction over any determination concerning child custody or parenting time during and 90 days following a servicemember’s deployment or treatment. Other key provisions of the law require a non-deploying parent to make the child reasonably available to the deploying parent when the deploying parent has leave time. The non-deploying parent must also provide opportunities for telephone calls and e-mails communications to the extent possible between the deploying parent and the child during deployment.”
“Clarifying under law the parental rights of service members who are deployed or receiving treatment in child custody cases to ensure they can spend time and have contact with their children is critically important for the overall welfare of the families affected by this issue,” added Assemblywoman Gove. “This is demonstrated by the fact that our legislation passed unanimously in both Houses with strong bipartisan support. The law builds upon those rights and protections offered under federal “Servicemembers Civil Relief Act” and the “New Jersey Soldiers’ and Sailors Civil Relief Act of 1979.”
The provisions of the new law will take effect on the 60th day following the date of enactment, and will apply to any action filed on or after the effective date.