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Military custody battle and the dad fighting to see his daughter

Sgt. Matthew Todd was forced to be away for much of his daughter's early life, due to his military service. He continues to battle for custody of his daughter. (Courtesy of Matthew Todd)

Child custody fights are never pretty. But when one of the parents is an active duty soldier, and it becomes a military custody battle, things can get much more complicated.

Sergeant Matthew Todd was a soldier based at Joint Base Lewis McChord when he started dating the mother of his child in 2009. The relationship lasted only a few months.

Shortly after the break up, his ex found out she was pregnant. And, just four days after Todd was told about his coming child, he shipped out for a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

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When his daughter was born Todd said he wasn’t able to call his ex because of the situation in the desert. He was able to get a few hours of leave time to go online and see pictures of his baby girl.

“She’s my world,” Todd said. “I love her so much. She’s my only child, and I just love her more than anything in this world.”

He said his ex sent him a few letters while he was overseas and he sent some back. But, when he returned from Afghanistan something had changed.

“She had put a restraining order on me because she felt like the war, or whatever, had affected me,” Todd recalled.

A military custody battle

Two weeks later he was in court to have the restraining order reversed. After the hearing, he went straight from the court house to see his daughter for the first time.

“I fell in love with her the first day that I seen her,” Todd said. “I was telling her how the world was going to be and how I was going to take care of her.”

Jason Benjamin is the attorney for his daughter’s mother. He stresses that there is another side to this story. Benjamin alleges Todd isn’t the guy he portrays himself to be. The lawyer said there have been threats of violence and drug abuse. He argues that Todd did not previously make many efforts to support his daughter financially or to see her on a regular basis.

Todd said he did his best to find time with her while he was working and going through post-deployment debriefings.

Then, things took another bad turn when Todd talked about trying to get joint custody of his daughter. With partial custody, she could get the full benefits through her father because of his military service. But Todd alleges the fighting escalated just as he was shipped out to Germany for retraining.

“I had a lawyer at that time and she assured me that if I just kept in contact everything would be fine,” Todd said. “That I would be able to come back and maintain a relationship with my daughter.”

Todd said that he letters, cards and money for his daughter, as the military custody battle continued. But he alleges they all came back “return to sender” in the mail.

Just before he was getting ready to go to Afghanistan for his second tour of duty, another twist in his military custody battle came. Todd said he received notice that his ex had filed paperwork to have him stripped of his parental rights so her new husband could adopt their daughter.

Todd was shocked, but he was protected by the Service Members Civil Relief Act. Nothing could be changed until he was back from deployment.

Soon after he returned, Todd’s ex refiled for the adoption and a Pierce County Superior Court Judge granted her request.

“I’m a grown man, but I ain’t gonna lie, I cried,” Todd said. “I cried pretty much the rest of the day. I called my mom and let her know what had happened and she was crying. You know, we just couldn’t believe it.”

They didn’t give up. And, just this week, an appeals court has put the adoption on hold. While they didn’t order a re-trial, they did order the lower court to reconsider whether there is, in fact, clear and convincing evidence that Todd failed to perform his parental duties.

Benjamin said he and his client are confident they will still prevail in the end and the adoption will eventually be granted.

Todd knows his fight isn’t over. But, he said at least now he has a chance of being a dad to his little girl.

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