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Losing Custody While Serving Your Country

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How is this even possible?

leydi mendoza soldier custody battle
Ronda Kaysen: After fighting for her country for 10 months in Iraq, Leydi Mendoza returned home to find herself in another battle. This one was for her 2-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.

Leydi's ex-boyfriend, Daniel Llares, had been caring for their baby at his parents' house in New Jersey. But when Leydi returned home, Daniel ignored the family care plan the couple had worked out with the military before Leydi was deployed, and instead only allowed her brief, infrequent visits with her baby. He said sharing custody would be too disruptive to the little girl who he claims barely remembers her mom, and that he should have full custody.

"My daughter needs her mother," Specialist Mendoza told the New York Times last week at the National Guard Armory in Teaneck. "I left my daughter, and they told me that when I got back, she'd be with me again. But now, it's like I'm on my own."

Leydi isn't alone. Several other military moms from around the country have come home from war to find themselves mired in a custody battle. And judges are often unsympathetic to the mother's cause: there is still a social stigma against mothers who leave their children -- even if it's to serve their country. Moms like Leydi find themselves in family court with family care plans that are hashed out by the armed services but not enforced by them.

So Leydi is left fighting her ex-boyfriend for custody of their child. While she was in Iraq, she sent money to Daniel and his parents to help support Elizabeth, and carried a photo of her daughter inside her camouflage patrol cap that was part of her uniform in Baghdad. Since she's been back, she's been going to college in New Jersey, studying to be a math teacher, and has racked up more than $6,000 in legal fees.

"I wanted Elizabeth to grow up and be proud that her mother had served her country," Leydi told the Times. "And we needed the health care and the military benefits and the help paying for my school."

It's heartbreaking to see something like this happen to a mom who has made such an enormous sacrifice for her country and her child. Yes, Elizabeth hasn't seen her mother in 10 months, but that doesn't mean that she doesn't need her mom and can't bond with her again. American soldiers have been through enough -- and have enough hurdles to face when they return home. They should at least know that the custody arrangements they make for their children will be honored upon their return.

next: Brooke Shields' Mom-amorphosis
15 comments so far | Post a comment now
chris September 2, 2009, 9:49 AM

This is very sad. 1st - let me say Thank you for your service to our country! 2nd - men leave everyday to serve our country and they get to come back as hero and welcomed back into thier family and childrens lives so why should this be any different. I wish you the best and pray that you will get your daughter back. I’m sure as your daughter grows up, she will be very proud of you.

jolene September 2, 2009, 11:05 AM

I am a liberal and feminist that believes in equal parenting rights for men, but this is just plain wrong. Mom was on DUTY, not in rehab. If the author could post and name and address for this solider’s attorney, I’d send what I can in towards her legal fees.

maeby September 2, 2009, 3:31 PM

women should just stop joining the military. they dont care about you. plain and simple. you get raped by a fellow marine? too bad, it was your fault. you get killed while pregnant by a fellow soldier? too bad, you’re fault. thats basically what they always say. the military does not care about women.

renee September 3, 2009, 11:20 AM

how sad and unfortunate. The father claims the daughter does not remember her mother? well then let her start remembering her by letting her see her. Poor baby.

SesshoumarusGirl September 3, 2009, 12:33 PM

Maeby, is correct, sadly.

scglove September 4, 2009, 7:10 AM

this is very sad,so many dead beat moms in the world and a good one has to bare this heart goes out to you

CC Marie September 5, 2009, 4:03 PM

Maeby- ARE YOU SERIOUS!?! i proudly served my country and none of those things happned to me! its a hard job but someones gotta do it instead of sit back and do nothing just beause im a woman! i dont think so

Ally September 10, 2009, 9:19 PM

This breaks my heart. What a heartless bastard. Please fight this with all your soul. You can win this. Get as much media on your side as possible. A child needs its mother. As a military wife, I know that it is very hard to be separated from your family. Don’t give up on your daughter.

Anonymous September 11, 2009, 8:29 PM

It’s not only the women who are treated that way, mu husband had the same thing happen to him, and also the Military takes great care of the women in uniform, probably better than the men!

Anonymous October 13, 2009, 2:59 PM

I am in your situation too sweetie. I was deployed and an exboyfriend went to court without my knowledge and the judge awarded him custody along with almost 1000 in child support. I am currently stationed in GA and i still don’t have my son back because his attorney knows the judge in Bell County texas and i am still saving up to get another attorney. I redeployed from Iraq Dec 2007 and i am still fighting this. I will continue to pray for you!!!

Peggy Gorman November 20, 2009, 6:06 AM

What is wrong with our system ? To keep a Mother away from her children is just plain crazy and the so called lawyers are just in it for a buck! Shame on them!
I hope that Mom and daughter are together again . A child needs both ,a Mom and a Dad.

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