What You Need to Know About Military Divorce

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Divorce is complicated. It is a painful, emotional, and stressful experience for a person to go through. Divorce can bring out the wickedest in people, and tear families apart, but when it comes to a divorce of military families, it can sometimes be worse.

There are specific laws that focus on military divorce, both state and federally when applying to the dissolution of a marriage with one or both spouses involved in the military. Dividing retirement accounts, pensions, and child custody is very intricate.

Federal Military Divorce

Military divorces are more intricate than civil divorce proceedings because members of the armed forces have protection under the law that are not applied to civilians. The most critical security is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which states service members cannot be sued (or sue) for a divorce while they are on active duty or within 60 days of returning from active duty.  Meaning if you want to divorce a spouse on active duty, you will have to stay married longer.

State Military Divorce

Laws that regulate military divorce vary by state and jurisdiction. Before filing for divorce, you need to know which court system holds authority over the marriage. This has a direct effect on the separation, military retirement garnishments, and how the pension is split.

Child Custody in a Military Divorce

Another complication in a military divorce is child custody.  A spouse on active duty is not home as often as a non-military parent. Generally, the non-military parent is granted full charge due to their regular presence and lack of a risky job daily. A parent not in the military can offer a more stable life than a military spouse.

Slowing Down the Divorce

In cases where a spouse being served divorce papers is on active duty, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act allows or an extension of deadlines. A service member on active duty can demand a stay on proceedings if they are current military duties prevent them from responding or participating in proceedings.

The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act

Under federal law, the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act provides benefits to former spouses of military members. Meaning an un-married former spouse can still receive medical, commissary, and exchange if they meet the requirements of the 20/20/20 rule.

  • Former spouse was married to a military member for at least 20 years at the time of the divorce.
  • A military member has performed at least 20 years of service that is creditable for eligibility for retired pay
  • The previous spouse was married to a service member during at least 20 years of member’s creditable retirement service.

You Will Need an Attorney who Knows Military Divorce

A lawyer is essential for a military divorce because not knowing laws surrounding retirement, death benefits, and jurisdiction can be a significant financial burden. You could be forfeiting massive amounts of money if you do not understand how retirement and death benefits in military work.

It would help if you asked an attorney specific questions to make sure the lawyer is qualified to handle a military divorce. Particular questions to ask include:

  • What is CRDP? CRDP is the short form for Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay. An experienced attorney should be able to explain in detail how this might apply to your family’s circumstances.
  • What is CRSC? CRSC stands for Combat-Related Special Compensation. An experienced attorney in military law should explain what this means for your family.
  • How long do you need to be married to get a military pension division? This is a red flag question because no matter the length of the marriage, retirement benefits are subjected to division by the Court. An experienced attorney with military divorce experience should explain your rights verse what may be beneficial in a settlement negotiation.

Overseas Divorce

Divorces filed overseas can be complicated because U.S. courts may not recognize a foreign divorce. If you are considering divorce, it is usually best to hold off and file in the United States. Divorce laws for military allow for the service member or their spouse to file for dissolution in either the state where the service member is a legal resident, where the service member is stationed currently, or the state the non-military spouse resides. There are certain things to consider when filing a divorce overseas, including:

  • Talk with a civilian attorney or a military legal assistance office if you own a house or other property abroad.
  • Family members and their property might be brought home at the government’s expense before the service members tour of duty ends.

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