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New Mexico bill protects military child custody plans

New Mexico military members no longer have to worry about losing custody of their children while deployed for military service thanks to the “Service Member Child Custody Act,” which Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law Saturday at Kirtland Air Force Base.

The governor, also the New Mexico National Guard commander-in-chief, was at the Albuquerque base to celebrate the re-designation of the New Mexico Air National Guard’s 150th Special Operations Wing, which used to be the 150th Fighter Wing — informally known as the “Tacos” after its time in the Vietnam War.

After lauding the 150th for its success and congratulating its members on the transition, the governor whipped out pens and signed Senate Bill 130, saying that deployed members of the military need not be distracted by custody battles when they’re fighting actual battles.

“It’s simply unfair for these brave men and women to have to worry about something as gravely critical as child custody issues when they’re deployed,” Martinez said at the ceremony held in a base hangar.

The act, according to the gov- ernor’s office, “ensures that child custody arrangements cannot be modified while a parent is deployed for military service.”

Veterans’ Services Department secretary Timothy Hale was also on hand, and he shared a story about a soldier on his sixth deployment who would rush to a phone several times a day to “try and keep his family together.” Hale said this was the fourth time his office and others tried to drum up support for such a bill at the Legislature, though it failed for various reasons in the past three legislative sessions.

Hale and the governor also credited the efforts of Amanda Pagan, chief foreign officer for the New Mexico National Guard and a local attorney, for her continued support of military members in custody disputes and for helping to spearhead the legislative effort. Pagan said she’s spoken with “hundreds” of New Mexican military members with custody battles.

“They’re fighting a war and trying to fight a custody battle for their children,” Pagan said. “It’s just a common-sense bill. It should have been passed a long time ago.”

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Nathan Cote, D-Organ, sponsored the bill this legislative session.

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