Retirement is distributed according to the same rules as other property unless controlled by statute. Retirement is one of the few areas of Family Law that is controlled primarily by federal statutes. Claire has represented dozens of parties in which retirement was at issue and, if elected, has the knowledge base to divide retirement among competing parties on day one of taking the bench.
Claire’s involvement in the passage of the deployment provisions of the Texas Family Code was based on her personal experience. The relationship between Claire and Sam’s ex-wife, his oldest child’s mom, prior to 2003 had its ups and downs, as many of these relationships do. From 1998-2003 child custody exchanges were manageable. That all changed when Sam was called up for Operation Iraqi Freedom in March of 2003. Sam’s ex-wife, who was the managing conservator of Claire’s step son, cut off all contact between Claire’s stepson and his younger two brothers. Prior to Sam’s deployment, Sam’s son spent half of his time with his mom’s family and half of his time with his dad’s family. Once Sam deployed, his son, Claire’s step-son, was now prevented from seeing any member of Sam’s family. This prevented him from seeing Claire, who first met him at age two, his two younger brothers, and all of his Abilene friends. At the time there were no provisions in the Family Code to allow Sam to designate anyone to exercise his parental rights to visitation while he was deployed. The relationship between Sam’s son and any member of Sam’s family was immediately severed.
Little Sam (two at the time), didn’t understand why his brother wasn’t around anymore and Claire filed a petition to modify the divorce decree to allow her visitation with her stepson while Sam was deployed. During the hearing the Dallas trial court judge ruled against Claire saying from the bench, “I see soldiers the same way I see prisoners. I don’t allow prisoners to designate someone to exercise their parental rights when their incarcerated, I’m not going to let soldiers designate someone to exercise their parental rights when they are deployed.” Claire was shocked and called the Dallas Morning News who agreed to run the story, but she wouldn’t allow the use of her stepson’s name as she was concerned about the effect that would have on a 7 year old. What she did do however was change the law so her story would not be repeated. She called state senators and state representatives until someone showed interest.
Eventually, Sam returned and the custody exchanges returned to normal. However, Claire’s stepson, after having no contact with Sam’s family for a year, didn’t want to see his dad, stepmom, or brothers. Claire became more resolved that this wouldn’t happen to any other family. Eventually, Claire and Sam were asked to testify in front of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees about a proposed bill that would allow a deployed soldier’s designee some possession and access to the service member’s child when he or she was deployed. The original version was weak but better than nothing.
Claire and Sam testified again 2007 and the law was strengthened to allow the soldier’s designee to step into the shoes of the deployed service member, to exercise all the parental rights and visitation of the deployed service member. Unbeknownst to Sam a member of the Senate Judiciary committee was a friend of his who served with him in Baghdad.
Most recently the deployment statute was amended so that a temporary order can be obtained triggering the protections of the statute, but not giving a non-parent rights at all times under the order. The non-custodial, deployed service member has the right to request a temporary order be entered that allows his/her designated person, usually a new spouse or grandparent, to have his/her visitation during the deployment. Should the non-custodial parent be a non-service member, the non-custodial parent has the right to request a temporary order be entered that allows that non-service member “custody” of the child or children during the deployment with the children returning to the service member after he or she returns from the deployment.