GI Jane: Kids or Country?

Soldiers deployed in Iraq continue to be thrust into custody battles.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 12:07 AM

Oct. 23, 2007— -- Just before Molly Moriarty left Florida for Kuwait in December 2005 on deployment for the Navy, she sat her two sons, 9-year-old Patrick and 11-year-old Alistair, down for a talk. "I told them the president needs Mommy and her fellow sailors to do some work for him and it's kind of important, but everything is going to be OK," said Moriarty.

But within three weeks, Moriarty found herself facing another war, this one on the home front. During her absence, Moriarty's ex-husband had filed for full custody and had received a court order to take the boys.

"I talked to my sons on the phone -- hat was the worst part. They were crying and saying why is Daddy doing this to us. I said Mommy is going to go home and fix this."

Moriarty isn't the only military mom facing this battle. When Eva Crouch-Slusher of Lawrenceburg, Ky., finished her active duty tour, she called her ex-husband. "I said I'm coming to get Sara tomorrow. Make sure you have all her stuff packed. And he said, Make sure you have a court order. I was stunned."

And there are others, lots of others. Cpl. Levi Bradley fought for custody of his 3-year-old son while stationed in Iraq. Spc. Mary Hollingsworth of North Carolina had to return home to fight her ex for custody of their 5-year-old son. And Spc. Lisa Hayes of New Hampshire went AWOL, absent without leave, when she returned home to fight for custody of her 7-year-old daughter, Brystal.

There are about 140,000 single parents in the active and reserve military. Before a deployment, service personnel are required to work out temporary parenting arrangements with an ex-spouse or family member through a written family care plan. But all too often, the stateside caregiver goes to court requesting a modification of a custody arrangement, and the military parent isn't around to fight the order. That leaves military moms and dads feeling as if their deployment -- their absence -- counts against them in court. "You should not have to be in downtown Baghdad worrying about your children," said Moriarty.