Military Service Members, Contractors and the Texas Family Code
As we approach almost a decade of military engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the sacrifices of those fighting for our country are becoming more apparent in the justice system. From the creation of specific courts for our veterans to the complexity of issues surrounding benefits through the Department of Defense and the Veteran's Administration, the legal questions are numerous and growing. Family law is no exception. To add to the legal complexity, many functions of the United States Armed Forces which were previously undertaken exclusively by the branches of the military, are now undertaken by military contractors.
Increasingly, service members and contractors are faced with an additional sacrifice when they find themselves in a dispute over the conservatorship and visitation of their child during a tour of duty. In 2009, the Texas Legislature enacted legislation addressing many of the issues that can arise within a family when one parent is on military deployment. One glaring absence within the new legislation, however, is the treatment of military contractors.
The ambiguity lies within Texas Family Code §153.701, which does not define exactly who a "service member of the armed forces" is, but does, however, refer to "military deployment" as "serving in an active-duty status to another location in support of combat or some other military operation." Arguably, this definition should encompass military contractors as well as the traditional United States Armed Forces, engaging as they oftentimes do in missions which are identical to those undertaken by the Armed Forces a generation ago.
Unfortunately, we don't know with certainty if the Texas Family Code does apply to military contractors in the same way that it applies to the traditional armed forces. Being just over two years old, the law is too new to have produced definitive rulings from high courts on its interpretation. What this means is that for now, military contractors must continue to share the sacrifice of the protection of our nation, but when it comes to issues of child conservatorship and visitation, they may not share in the benefits afforded to the military in the Texas Family Code.