Many overseas conflicts in the last decade have placed substantial stressors on members of our armed services and their families. Multiple, extended deployments are common and create challenges to family stability and reintegration for those in the military. Juvenile and family courts often deal with the outcomes associated with these stressors and challenges in the form of cases involving domestic violence, abuse and neglect, custody, and child support. In hearing these cases, juvenile and family courts might be faced with navigating both civilian and military systems, as well as having to consider appropriate factors such as the neurobiological consequences of combat.
The NCJFCJ, guided by the Military Issues Committee and a 2011 resolution by our Board of Directors, is committed to developing and providing resources for judges and other court professionals to navigate and address effectively the unique issues facing members of our military and their families that touch the courts.
The NCJFCJ received initial funding from the Vivian Phillips Charitable Trust to survey juvenile and family court professionals about the need for training and technical assistance on various military issues. Subsequently, the NCJFCJ convened a focus group with military and judicial stakeholders to develop recommendations to guide the next steps and move forward reform efforts in this area.
The NCJFCJ received additional private funding to conduct a national military summit in 2015 on the issues surrounding military families in contact with juvenile and family courts. Summit participants created a national action plan to improve the courts’ handling of cases involving military families in dependency, domestic violence, family law, and juvenile justice. The plan includes suggestions for a pilot project to develop and test innovative practices.
With funding from the State Justice Institute, the NCJFCJ started the Military-Connected Families project in 2018 to support work with military-connected families in the justice system. The NCJFCJ is working with two demonstration sites (San Diego County Courts and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, and the Hardin County Courts and Fort Knox Army Base) on developing agreements to collaborate, share information, and provide training and resources to support military-connected families in the court system.
In 2019, the NCJFCJ created the National Resource Center on Military-Connected Families and the Courts and will publish resource guidelines for judges with military-connected families on their dockets. The NCJFCJ convened a second Military Summit in September 2019 at Fort Knox.
The NCJFCJ released a report documenting the 2015 military summit and the next steps the organization will take. The NCJFCJ has provided technical assistance to connect judges to key resources and military personnel in order to serve better the members of the military at the local and state levels.
The NCJFCJ wants judges to have specialized training on the unique issues of military-connected families as they relate to custody, visitation, and family violence, including the impact of PTSD. State courts have a better knowledge of military pay and retirement to make the best decisions on issues of child support, alimony, and property division. Military judges, courts, and related agencies receive the benefit of advances in practice already in place in the areas of juvenile delinquency, dependency, family violence, and family law that have been developed and implemented in state courts.