P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 26, 2009
AUSTIN — The Texas House last night unanimously approved SB 279 by State Senator Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, preventing an individual's military deployment from being construed as abandonment in a custody hearing. The bill now moves to the governor's desk.
"When our service men and women deploy, they are not abandoning their children. They are serving our country. That service should be honored -- not used against them in court," Senator Nelson said.
SB 279 amends Section 156 of the Family Code to prohibit a parent's military service from being used as the sole factor in modifying a custody order. Current law states that if a parent relinquishes custody for more than 6 months, courts can modify his or her custody order. The intent was to deal with situations of abandonment. SB 279 also allows the court to award additional visitation time to compensate for the loss of time while a conservator parent is deployed.
There are more than 140,000 single parents in the military at risk of having their custody rights altered while they are deployed overseas. The federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protects soldiers from creditors, eviction, and property seizures while they are deployed. However, there is no protection under custody laws.
Another bill to help military families is on today's House local calendar today for final passage. SB 1325 directs the Department of State Health Services to create a veteran-to-veteran peer mental health intervention program; allows the Department to recruit and train veterans to provide peer counseling services; clarifies that these services are available to honorably discharged veterans; and requires the program to be up and running by January 1, 2010.
"When our service men and women return from duty, we need to help heal the emotional scars that they bring home. Having their own peers available to provide counseling – other veterans who can relate to their ordeal – will help with that effort," Senator Nelson said.