Custody Battles Can Be Uphill Battles For Service Members

The cards tend to be stacked against our troops when it comes to winning custody of their kids.

That's especially true when they change duty stations and their children stay put.

"He's her dad, and it's hard," says Army wife Rebecca Bass as she clutches a stack of legal papers with tears streaming down her face.

She, SPC Chris Bass, and their three other children haven't seen Chris's daughter, 5-year old Katie Beth, since Katie Beth was two.

Photos of Katie Beth hang all around their Fort Hood home.

That's where Chris is stationed, while Katie Beth is 800 miles away in Georgia with her birth mom.

"My heart hurts, my heart hurts for my husband, because it's been three years since he's been able to hold her, to hug her, to kiss her, to tuck her in," Rebecca says through tears.

Chris says, "I feel that she's here all the time with me in my heart, and I want her here physically."

The couple doesn't qualify for legal aid programs in Texas, because the case would have to be opened in Georgia, and the legal aid program in Georgia tends to focus its limited funds on domestic violence issues when it comes to family law cases for non-Georgia residents.

On top of that, there's the looming cost of traveling to Georgia multiple times to attend court.

Family Law Attorney Ed Laughlin handles lots of Military cases in Central Texas and says families often give up on ones, like the Basses'.

"Some of these cases, they are two, three, four hearings or more, and so the more hearings you go into that, it's much more difficult for them, and also they have, like everyone has, limited funds," Laughlin said.

It's a problem that may be more common than you think.

SGT Shawn Miller says his 9-year old daughter, Ashlynn, hasn't been in his custody for more than a short visit in about three years.

"It's very difficult financially, and it's hard to only have a phone call type relationship," Shawn said.

His wife, Traci, worries they and their other two children are losing touch with Ashlynn.

"That's painful for me, and I feel bad for Savannah and Julian, they don't get to have that sister relationship, and watching my husband go through it is even worse," Traci said.

For a case, like Chris and Rebecca's, legal costs can range from five thousand to 50 thousand dollars.

"If we could afford it, I would leave today and go and see her, and the kids would come with us," said Chris.

He says this is a fight he will never give up on.

"I want my daughter in my life, I'm going to have my daughter in my life, and I'm not going to stop until I get my daughter in my life."

In some cases, the American Bar Association's Military Pro Bono program can help.

Soldiers need to contact their JAG office to find out.

Other resources listed by state can be found here.

Reporter: Sophia Stamas

Photographer: Chris Buford


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