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Bill to protect custody rights of deployed parents clears first hurdle

RIVERSIDE - An Inland Empire lawmaker's bill to preserve the child custody rights of parents deployed overseas on military assignments cleared its first hurdle in the state Assembly, it was announced today.

AB 2416, sponsored by Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Beaumont, was approved unanimously by the Assembly Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

The bill proposes that the divorced parent of a child be afforded every opportunity to remain in contact with the minor, even when they're separated by ''substantial'' distances because the parent is serving outside the country.

Existing state and federal law offer various exemptions to servicemen and women on tours of duty, including temporarily suspending any pending judicial or administrative actions against the personnel while they're deployed.

Default custody judgments against a parent simply because he or she is absent as a result of deployment are prohibited under both the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and sections of the California Family Code, according to an Assembly analysis of Cook's bill.

To serve the ''best interests'' of a child, a judge may modify custody or visitation orders under current laws. Under AB 2416, however, when an order is changed while a parent is mobilized, it ''will be considered temporary'' and revert to the original conditions when the deployment has ended, ''unless the court determines that such a reversion'' could harm the child.

The bill also directs courts to grant expedited hearings on custody matters when a parent is about to deploy, or give the deploying parent a chance to participate in a hearing by ''electronic means,'' such as Web conferencing.

The proposed legislation would urge courts to grant orders that ensure deployed parents have ''continuing contact'' with their kids.

Cook's bill would also add a specific provision to the Family Code that gives a deploying parent the option of requesting that, in his or her absence, a ''close relative'' be granted visitation rights with the child.

Examples might include people with a history of interaction with the minor, including a grandparent or step-parent. But a judge could not grant such an order ''over the objections of a fit parent,'' according to the bill.

Organizations endorsing the legislation include the American Retirees Association, the Family Law Section of the State Bar and Fathers & Families.

No opponents were listed.

The bill is expected to receive a full hearing before the Assembly in the next month, according to Cook's office.


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