A Central Florida mother who returned home after fighting in two wars overseas to find her stepmother lost custody of her children in New Jersey is one step closer to having her son and daughter returned to her.
At a conference hearing Wednesday in Volusia County, two judges — one in Florida and one in New Jersey — along with lawyers representing each of the two states' departments of Children and Families, agreed to bring Amanda Hurst's children back to Florida.
There was a great deal of bureaucratic maneuvering to reach an agreement, which will lead to reuniting Hurst with her children, now 14 and 15. They were 7 and 8 when Hurst joined the Army and went to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.
New Jersey agreed Hurst should regain custody as long as Florida's DCF continues the services New Jersey's DCF is providing for the children.
Florida's DCF initially denied jurisdiction but on Wednesday agreed to enter a so-called interstate compact, which would bypass the red tape Hurst has been fighting since returning home from war following her honorary discharge from the Army in 2013.
Now, it's only a matter of when Hurst will be reunited with her children.
"When you have lawyers stand up in open court and tell you that an interstate compact can take 8 or 9 months, and then you have judges say, 'Well, we're not going to accept that,' then they're coming down to 30 days," said Brad Sherman, Hurst's lawyer. "I think if the right buttons are pushed, it could happen next week."
"The wheels are turning and in motion," Hurst said Wednesday. "Hopefully it won't take 8 to 9 months, and the kids will be home soon."
There was one stumbling block when one of the lawyers in New Jersey raised the question of whether Hurst was an unfit mother. The New Jersey judge quickly quashed that, noting Hurst served her country and was honorably discharged, and all documents in that state showed she was a fit parent.
"There are no allegations that Amanda has done anything wrong with these children, and I can assure you that if there were, they would be in there," Sherman said.
"I'm not an unfit mother," Hurst said. "Before I joined the military, my only crime was to be a poor, single mother. I was uneducated."
Hurst admitted she made poor choices living in abusive relationships, a tragic cycle she said she broke out of by joining the Army.
Now, Hurst has a job and owns a home, which she wants to share with her children, whom she hopes will return sooner, rather than later.
"I'd like to thank News 13 for following this story, because I think with your interest in the story, it certainly helps government move faster," Sherman added Wednesday.
The judges in both states set another hearing for Sept. 22 to get an update on the status on returning Hurst's children to Florida.