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Deployed sailor facing difficult outcome in child custody dispute

If you and your former spouse or partner can agree on a child custody arrangement for your child, then courts in California will presume that the agreed-upon plan is in the best interest of the child. You and the other parent may have to work with a mediator to come to an agreement, though, if there is a dispute over child custody issues. Mediation is always preferable to litigation, but litigation is sometimes necessary.

A Navy sailor currently deployed overseas is likely to face ongoing litigation to retain physical custody of his daughter after a judge ruled that the father has to appear in court for a custody hearing. The case underscores the particular difficulties that military parents sometimes face in California and throughout the country.

In 2010 child protective services reportedly removed the man's daughter, now 6 years old, from the mother's custody. The father was given physical custody, and he, his current wife and his daughter reside in Washington State.

However, the father was deployed to the Pacific Ocean on a nuclear submarine while in the midst of a custody dispute with the mother. Meanwhile, the little girl is living with her stepmother.

The dispute is being heard in a court in Michigan, where a judge recently ruled that the father must appear in court on June 23 or be held in contempt of court. The sailor's command has indicated that he won't be able to attend the hearing, nor will he be able to appear via phone or Skype.

Attorneys for the father say the Service Members Civil Relief Act, which allows for court proceedings to be postponed for at least 90 days for deployed military members, protects the sailor. The judge disagreed, saying that the little girl should be with the mother if not with the father.

While the outcome of this dispute remains to be seen, California parents should understand the importance of having a legal professional on your side in the event of a disagreement over child custody. Too much is at stake not to take legal steps to protect your child's best interest.

Source: ABC News, "Sailor Serving Overseas Ordered to Appear in Custody Fight," June 19, 2014

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