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Deployed submariner loses a round in custody battle

A Michigan judge who threatened to put a deployed sailor in jail and transfer custody of his daughter to his ex-wife when he didn't show for a custody hearing in court has ordered an unscheduled two-week visitation with the child's mother.

An attorney representing Information Systems Technician Second Class (SS) Matthew Hindes cited the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and asked for a stay in the case, but Circuit Judge Margaret Noe said the law allowed her to temporarily place the child in the mother's care until the custody matter is resolved.

The judge on Aug. 4 also ordered the stepmother, Benita Hindes, to remove from a Facebook page photos and notes from the 6-year-old daughter that deal with the custody battle.

Hindes was ordered to fly his daughter from his home in Washington state to Detroit. That responsibility fell to Benita, as her husband is deployed until mid-October.

But in an email to Navy Times, a defiant Benita Hindes said that won't happen.

"Kaylee will not be going to that," she wrote, "because the SCRA should be invoked."

Their lawyer, Patrick Foley, has asked the court for immediate consideration of a motion for peremptory reversal of the judge's ruling.

The custody hearing is set for Oct. 24, two days after Hindes is scheduled to return.

Noe on June 19 moved the hearing to October after Foley responded to the judge's threats by citing the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which temporarily suspends judicial and administrative proceedings and transactions that may adversely affect the civil rights of service members during their military service. A specific provision grants service members a 90-day window to appear in court for cases related to child custody.

That language was introduced by Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, who has championed the rights of deployed parents.

"In the case of Navy submariner Matthew Hindes, the law is not being followed," Turner said in a June 20 statement. "This law is directly intended to prevent cases like this. But even when the law is followed to the letter, our service members are still placed at a severe disadvantage in child custody proceedings. We need a national standard that ensures the parental rights of our service men and women are properly safeguarded."

Turner included protections in this year's National Defense Authorization Act that state current and future deployment cannot be a factor in child custody decisions. The bill passed the House on May 22 and is awaiting Senate approval.

Turner has the support of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who in a Feb. 15 letter agreed that the Department of Defense "should change [its] position to one where [they] are willing to consider whether appropriate legislation can be crafted that provides service members with a federal uniform standard of protection in cases where it is established that military service is the sole factor involved in a child custody decision involving a service member. ... We should work with Congress to pursue an acceptable legislative formula."

Hindes' first wife, Angela, filed for divorce in 2009 after three years of marriage. The sailor soon leveled charges of child abuse and neglect against Angela and her boyfriend at the time. Their daughter, Kaylee, was removed by Michigan Child Protective Services in 2010, and the submariner was granted legal and physical custody of the child, now 6.

Angela Hindes pleaded no contest to assault and was given a 10-day jail sentence and probation ending in September 2012, according to court records. The 27-year-old was initially given supervised parenting time; overnight stays are still prohibited. She filed a petition for a change in the custody order in August 2013 and in April asked the court to decrease her child-support payments because she lost her job and has had another baby.

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