Being a mother is complicated — but it's a complete mess when you throw armed forces and ex-husbands into the mix. ABC News has a story today about military moms who face battles both in war — and in the custody of their children. Molly Moriarty, who is in the Navy, went to Kuwait in December 2005. Within three weeks, her ex-husband had filed for custody and received a court order to take her 9 and 11-year-old sons. Apparently, there are over a hundred thousand single parents in the active and reserve military. Before a deployment, personnel are required to work out temporary parenting arrangements with an ex-spouse or family member. But often, that person ends up goes to court trying to change the agreement — or get full custody — and the military parent isn't around to fight the order. Military moms and dads are left feeling as if their deployments count against them in court. "You should not have to be in downtown Baghdad worrying about your children," says Moriarty.
The Department of Defense agrees, and has stated that "Any service member who is deployed and experiences family problems back home is subject to psychological stress that could decrease effectiveness on the job and undermine military readiness." But family court judges have to make a decision based on what's right for the children. "Just because you have an agreement that says you get to get a child back it may not be the best thing for the child," says Judge Susan Carbon, president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. In Molly Moriarty's case, the Navy allowed her to fly home and fight the court order. But the legislation varies from state to state and some moms aren't so lucky: Spc. Lisa Hayes (pictured) was serving with the Navy in Iraq when she was compelled to go AWOL in order to return home and fight for custody of her 7-year-old daughter. (She refused to return to duty.) As for Ms. Moriarty, she got her kids back after enlisting the help of the Red Cross and several attorneys. "People think, Oh, you're a bad mom," she says. "You abandoned your kids because you wanted to go and play GI Jane. It was horrible. I signed up and took an oath of honor, loyalty and commitment. I wasn't going to dishonor my country by quitting. But then I would think, Oh my poor kids." She adds, "Going to Baghdad doesn't scare me. What scares me is if their dad is going to try this again."
GI Jane: Kids Or Country? [ABC News]