How Not to Get Burned in a Military Divorce

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When a member of the military goes through a divorce, situations arise that are different from when a civilian gets a divorce. Better decisions and increased fairness in outcomes can happen if the complex issues of a military divorce are understood.

The law normally allows for the filing of a divorce in the state in which the military member has his or home “home of record.” In other words, the state where the service member maintains their legal residence will determine much about the divorce. In the case of two service member who are spouses, the legal residence of the individual filing for divorce will be used as a base. Before determining where to start the divorce, you must be aware that each state handles the division of military pensions slightly differently. The splitting of military pensions is covered under a federal law called the “Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act” (USFSPA).

Other questions may arise and just a few will be addressed here. As usual, it is wise to get the advice of a competent divorce attorney as early in the process as possible.

Can a Member of the Military Slow the Divorce?

Usually, when someone files, or “serves,” divorce papers, the spouse on the receiving end must file a formal answer within a certain number of days. The “Servicemembers Civil Relief Act,” (SCRA), allows for active duty personnel to ask for a “stay” which will put the divorce proceeds on hold. The first stay is for at least 90 days and additional extensions can be grated. The divorce can’t be held off forever though. The intent of the stay is to hold off the court action as long as the member’s military duties interfere with his or her participation in the divorce.

The request for a stay must be in writing and samples of requests and cover letters can be found online.

Does the Military Provide a Lawyer?

No. While each service branch does have legal assistance available, generally the attorneys cannot represent you in your divorce. They can, however, writer letters on your behalf, review legal documents and answer questions.

The spouse of a service member also has access to military legal assistance at any base and from any branch. The spouse is not limited to obtaining guidance and counsel from members of the same branch as the service member. If you are low income, you may also meet the criteria for assistance from a civilian legal assistance office.

Who Determines and Collects Child Support

State law determines the amount of money in a divorce for child support. Only the court can determine the amount of child support to be paid, and once determined, only the court can change it. While the final decision on the amount of child support is up to the court, each brach of the services, except for the Air Force, has guidelines on how much each parent should be expected to pay. Again, the legal affairs officer on base would be able to help determine this.

Usually, states make it possible to directly pay child support by “garnishment” or the assigning of wages. If you obtain an order like this, submit it immediately to the military pay center.

When obtaining a divorce, service members as well as their spouses, should familiarize themselves with the legal issues that are unique to the military. There is help available. In addition to contacting the military legal affairs officer, a wise decision would be to consult with a civilian lawyer who is knowledgeable about the military guidelines as well.