Albany, N.Y. – (5/21/2013) – Senator Greg Ball (R,C,I-Patterson) Chairman of the Senate Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee announced today that S3507A, legislation to protect active duty military service members from losing permanent child custody due to deployment, has passed the New York State Senate.
On March 14, 2011, Senator Greg Ball, Chairman of the Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs held a hearing on the current status, quality of life and health of veterans and military service members in the State of New York. The most startling and emotional testimony came from Mr. Harold Cooney Northeast Region Liaison from the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and Ms. Tanya Towne a veteran of the National Guard, on the current custody issues facing our military service men and women.
In 2004, Ms. Towne’s National Guard unit was deployed to Tikrit, Iraq. A temporary order was issued for her son to stay with his father, Ms. Towne’s ex-husband. Shortly before Ms. Towne was expected to return home, her ex-husband filed, and was granted permanent custody of their son.
When returning home from an 18 month tour guarding conveys in Iraq, away from her home and family, Ms. Towne was not greeted by her son. Her husband refused to let him attend her homecoming. Ten days later Ms. Towne appeared in court to attempt to regain custody, which was denied. A custody trial was scheduled for February 2006, in the meantime her son would stay with his father.
In August of 2006 a Judge ruled the Ms. Towne’s ex-husband provided a more stable environment and awarded him primary custody of their son.
Regardless of the financial burden, Ms. Towne fought on. Her appeal came before the Appellate Division for the Third Judicial Department of New York State Supreme Court in October of 2007. Ms. Towne’s attorney vehemently argued it was inappropriate for the family court to use her deployment as grounds to contest a custody arrangement. On January 3, 2008 after a two year custody battle, the Judges ruled that the “consequences of her extended absence” had to be considered in awarding custody of her son, and it wasn’t in the best interest to move him again. Ms. Towne’s ex-husband was granted permanent custody.
In Ms. Towne’s emotional testimony she stated the obvious – soldiers should not have to chose between serving between their country and losing their family. If she knew she was going to lose her child she would have done anything to avoid going overseas.
“Today, New York State is one step closer to ensuring that our active duty military service members won’t jeopardize the custody of their children for serving our Nation,” said Senator Greg Ball. “Military servicemen and women should not have to be concerned about losing their children while focusing on protecting our Country. I urge my colleges in the Assembly to do the right thing and follow the Senate’s lead in passing this bill.”
“I’m ecstatic and excited this bill has passed the Senate. We’ve fought long and hard to get it to this point, and we need this legislation to become law,” said Tanya Towne. “This is still happening to soldiers to this day. It’s wrong and it’s unfair, no one should have to chose between their children and their country.”
“Many single Service members who are deployed away from their family find that States do not consider the unique aspects of military service when making custody decision. Although the Department believes the welfare of children is paramount, it also believes the demands of military service should not abrogate the parent’s rights. There are several protections the Department believes would serve both the parent’s rights and the welfare of the children,” said Harold E. Cooney, Northeast Region Liaison, Department of Defense State Liaison Office. “The action taken today by Senator Greg Ball and the New York Senate in passing S3507A addresses two of those key protections: that deployment – past, current or future – should not serve as the sole basis for awarding custody or changing an existing order; and the custody order in place before the absence of a military parent should be reinstated within a set time upon the return of the military parent, absent proof that the best interests of the child would be undermined. We strongly support the policy as represented in this bill as it is sent to the Assembly for consideration.”
Pentagon officials and military-family support groups say there are no statistics on the number of military parents who have lost custody of their children following deployments – but they agree that the number is increasing. This legislation is imperative to ensure the best interests of both military service members and their families are protected.
The bill has been sent to the Assembly.
For more information, please contact Joe Bachmeier at (845) 200 9716.