After National Guard Specialist Leydi Mendoza spent 10 months in Iraq, her almost two-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, barely recognized her. So Elizabeth's father and Mendoza's ex, Daniel Llares seriously curtailed the 22-year-old mom's visitation privileges, out of concern for the child.
On Tuesday, after a three-month legal battle, a New Jersey family court granted Mendoza daily visitation and weekend overnights, the sort of shared custody agreement Mendoza and Llares had worked out before she left. Happy ending, except for the $6,000 in legal fees. But for other moms in the military, custody issues continue to be a bitter result of leaving home to serve their country.
Although there's no statistical data on soldiers' custody disputes, David Kocienewski writes in the New York Times, "military family counselors said they knew of at least five recent situations around the country like the struggle over Elizabeth, in which a mother who served overseas is fighting for more access to her child. Some advocates say an unspoken bias against mothers who leave their young children has heightened both legal barriers and social stigma when these women try to resume their role as active parents."
Without knowing the details of those cases, it's hard to know for sure if female soldiers are suffering from the notion that a good mommy would never leave her child for so long under any circumstances, as opposed to the way military are dads inevitably painted as heroes making a supreme sacrifice. But when asked what she'd do if she got orders to go overseas once more, Mendoza says, "I'd try to get honorably discharged. But I wouldn't go through that again."
Soldier's Service Leads To A Custody Battle at Home [New York Times]
Family Court Gives Soldier Visitation in Custody Case [New York Times]