For several years, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has opposed federal legislation which would prevent state family court judges from holding a military service member's deployment or other military activity against him or her when determining child custody. However, after an increase in media attention focusing on the plight of service members who have faced a loss of custody due to military activity, Gates recently made the decision to change his position.

Because family law varies so widely from state to state, Gates and other Pentagon officials had resisted the legislation, fearing that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for states to merge the new law into their complicated family court system. However, proponents of the law claim that it is this state variance that makes a standard federal law so necessary.

For example, a service member who moves around between states or out of the country may be married in one state, divorced in another, and begin a child custody fight in yet another. Therefore, determining jurisdiction and trying to comply with the different set of family laws in each state may have an adverse effect on the family and the custody determination as a whole.

Representative Michael Turner of Ohio, who has been introducing a form of the Service Members Family Protection Act since 2006, says that he will work with Pentagon officials to create a bill similar to those he has created in the past. Previously, Turner's legislation sought to prohibit family court judges from considering deployments when determining child custody and to prevent permanent changes to custody orders while service members are deployed and are unable to appear in court.

Source: Stars and Stripes, "Pentagon to support bill to protect troops' child custody rights", Charlie Reed, 17 February 2011