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Hollywood on Custody and Military Service

We regularly see happy reunions on the nightly news when military Dad comes back from overseas deployment.  But as family lawyers we also regularly see families in conflict as a result of the absence of the military member.  Absence does not always make the heart grow fonder.  And children, especially little ones, may feel abandoned. Even parents may need to adjust.  In my own case, I was sent by the navy to Guam for only two weeks when my daughter was less than three months old, and the child in my kitchen on my return in no way was the same one I left.  Which leads me to recommend a new independent film, Fort Bliss.  There is no custody battle but the film subtly explores many questions related to long deployments abroad.  A four-year-old reacts to  a stranger who has been in Afghanistan for 15 months and calls herself his mother (in a marvelous, nuanced performance by Michelle Monaghan).  Promises made before deployment seem contrary to the best interests of the child.  How much weight should be given to patriotism and the personal lives and satisfaction of parents in determining what makes sense for a child?  What role should significant others have?  What about money, health benefits?  Not all these  issues are  trumpeted in this film, but they are there to eliminate any easy answers to the plight of the family riven by deployment.  If academy award winner Kramer v. Kramer opened moviegoers’ eyes to a possible different kind of custody model, this film accomplishes as much for families caught up in the US Army’s role in foreign countries.

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