A Plea For Volunteer Lawyers: Operation Standby

From Mark Sullivan, our North Carolina colleague and author of the 2006 ABA Military Divorce Handbook:

“Join Operation Stand By -YOU Can Make a Difference”

From Mark Sullivan, our North Carolina colleague and author of the 2006 ABA Military Divorce Handbook:

“Join Operation Stand By -YOU Can Make a Difference”

“One of our Operation Stand-By volunteers – Howard Gum of
Asheville, NC – recently completed a difficult child custody jurisdiction
matter for a Marine. He is on the Operation Stand-By list & wrote to tell
us of the experience. Here are his own words* –

In early July of 2005, I was contacted by phone by a Lieutenant Colonel, a
Legal Assistance Attorney with the United States Marine Corps, on behalf of
a Staff Sergeant in his command. The Legal Assistance Officer and the
StaffSergeant were in the State of Virginia.

The Staff Sergeant and his wife had three young children, ages 4, 3, and 2.
The Staff Sergeant’s wife had fled the State of Virginia with all three
children and showed up in Buncombe County, North Carolina.

She contacted a legal services office and presented them with allegations
ofdomestic violence that caused her and the children to flee the State of
Virginia. These allegations were subsequently proved to be groundless but
they were sufficient for legal services to accept her case and file custody
proceedings in North Carolina under the UCCJEA.

The Marine Corps Legal Assistance Attorney put the Staff Sergeant in touch
with me and he related that his wife had had a history of emotional
problemsand mental health issues and that he was very concerned for the safety and
welfare of their children and did not know of their physical whereabouts
although he was in intermittent and irregular contact by cell phone.

We agreed that he needed to retain counsel in Virginia to file an action
there seeking custody of the children but it was clear that he could not
afford to retain counsel in two states. He and his wife had recently
purchased a new home (at her insistence) and one of the manifestations of
her emotional and mental health problems was mismanagement of credit.

Under these circumstances, I agreed to represent the Marine on a pro bono
basis and filed a Motion to Dismiss the North Carolina action under the
provisions of the UCCJEA relating to jurisdiction. The Marine was able to
retain a lawyer in Virginia to file an action on his behalf.

The matter came on for hearing in Buncombe County and after hearing the
Court invoked the emergency custody provisions of the UCCJEA and awarded
emergency custody of the three children to the Marine Staff Sergeant,
pending action by the Virginia Court. Our Court declined to exercise any
further jurisdiction in North Carolina and transferred the matter back to

I understand the custody matter was resolved satisfactorily and favorably
for the Marine Staff Sergeant in the Virginia proceeding. I was pleased
and gratified to have the opportunity to assist this service member in a
difficult and some times terrifying situation given that he did not know
the circumstances of his very young children.

Please consider volunteering for Operation Stand By. By listing
your contact information on our list, JAG lawyers can call upon you to help
our men and women in uniform by providing even the simplest advice or help
in your jurisdiction. In order to add your name to the list, please
the List Administrator, Melissa Kucinski at mkucinski@dberlin.org. If you
have additional questions about Operation Stand By or the work of the
Military Committee, please contact its Chair, Mark Sullivan at


*The names have been omitted, but the facts have been untouched.

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