Amanda Hurst, mother of two, was deployed overseas for four years and returned home to find she had a custody battle on her hands. (Photo: News 13)
A Florida military veteran who served overseas in both Iraq and Afghanistan has returned home to find herself in another fight — this time for the custody of her two children, ages 14 and 15.
“I want my kids back,” Amanda Hurst of Orange City told Bay News 9. “I want to be with my kids. I’ve missed so much of their lives serving my country that I don’t want to miss any more.” (UPDATE: At a court hearing on Wednesday, it was determined that Hurst would regain custody of her children, and that she could be reunited with them as soon as next week.)
Hurst’s attorney, Brad Sherman, tells Yahoo Parenting that Hurst “went into the service to gain control over her life.” She was still married at the time to her second husband and the father of her children, and they all lived together at her first duty station, Fort Drum, until her first deployment to Iraq in 2009. “I was scared, I’m not going to lie,” she tells Yahoo Parenting about being sent overseas.
While in Iraq, Hurst was notified about a “family situation” involving her then-husband, and had to return home on emergency leave, which gave her two weeks to figure out who would be responsible for her children while she finished her deployment. Her husband was “not stable” (and “in and out of jail,” Sherman notes), and they soon split. Hurst decided that her kids would remain in the temporary care of Hurst’s stepmom before returning to Iraq, where she was told she’d be redeployed to Afghanistan within the year.
“I chose to stay in the military because as a single mom, it was a way for me to provide for them,” she says. She added that she kept them with her stepmom the whole time because “they needed stability,” although it was “a hard decision to make.”
But between that time and Hurst’s return home in 2013, Sherman says, the stepmom became estranged from some family members, took the children, and moved to New Jersey without legal permission. There, the children needed emergency mental-health services because of extreme behavioral issues and wound up in the care of the state. They remain in foster care.
Now, although judges in both states agree that the children should be in Florida with their mother, that determination hinges on Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) agreeing to provide the same or comparable services that the kids have received in New Jersey. And this week, Florida’s DCF filed paperwork challenging that.
Amanda Hurst (Photo: News 13)
“It’s astounding,” says Sherman. “She’s the mother, but Florida DCF doesn’t care, and just doesn’t want to be told when to initiate services.”
A spokesperson for Florida DCF tells Yahoo Parenting the agency is unable to comment because information regarding the case is “confidential.”
Sherman, who deals with all sorts of custody cases, calls this one more “unusual” than most. “The New Jersey judge is clearly undermining Amanda’s due-process rights and has limited them without any factual basis of her unfitness. If she had more funds for legal fees, she would be able to fight this more easily, which is very unfair.”
The case certainly raises many questions and is indeed “very unusual,” according to Kelly Hruska, government relations director with the National Military Family Association, a nonprofit advocacy organization. Child-custody battles among military parents, she says, are typically avoided with the implementation of something called a Family Care Plan — required for all military service members who are single. (Hurst says that she did have a Family Care Plan by the end of her duty, after divorcing her husband.)
“That stipulates, should they be deployed, who will be in charge,” Hruska explains. “We always tell people they need to have a Family Care Plan that spells out all the arrangements, though you wouldn’t necessarily have that in a case like this, since it was not a contentious relationship [between Hurst and her stepmom]. And here, she’s battling the state.”
Meanwhile, a hearing is scheduled for this week in the hopes of determining if and when Hurst’s children might return to Florida. “I hope that one day, when they are older,” Hurst told Bay News 9, “they understand that Mom didn’t give up.”