Understanding Military Divorce: What to Expect : No one expects to be married only for the union to end in divorce, and when you’re involved in a military divorce the issues can be even more complex in some ways. For example, you may be stationed far away from home or even on the other side of the world when you decide to end your marriage.
Regardless of the many issues that force couples to split, divorce is an ugly, unpleasant experience. It brings with it emotional, social, financial, and legal frustrations, and there is no simple way out of it. Dealing with these issues through a legal and informed approach can make the divorce process less daunting when you’re in the military.
A better approach to addressing the divorce issues is first understanding the legal process involved in a military divorce. Knowing what to expect helps you make informed decisions that could have a positive outcome on your future and the future of your children, if you have any.
Talking to a military office of legal aid is the first step in moving forward. This helps you grasp the scope of your situation and the legal complexities involved. You can access these legal services in your station of deployment, whether you reside in the US or abroad.
Services Offered by the Military Legal Assistance Office
Divorce is governed by state laws that vary from one state to another. Depending on where you file your case, you must adhere to certain federal laws and military regulations that govern military divorce. Your legal assistance office will advise on the following:
Legal Assistance Lawyer
Information on divorce and critical legal issues such as child support and alimony, income tax, and the Service Member Relief Act.
You and your spouse can receive legal guidance at the same office of legal aid. However, you will have separate assistance attorneys to avoid conflict of interest. Moreover, the legal assistance attorney cannot represent you in court proceedings.
Your Rights as a Military Spouse
If you are deserted by your military spouse without your consent or a legal annulment, you are entitled to the following benefits under federal, state, military, and family law:
- Military housing or housing allowance
- Medical benefits
- Military ID card
- Chain of Command
- Installation support services
Your Rights and Benefits as a Divorced Military Member
In some ways, getting a military divorce may be easier than a civilian divorce because there are protections built into the process for military members and their spouses.
The Service Member Relief Act
The Service Member Relief Act protects the rights of the military member facing a divorce lawsuit. This law can intervene during divorce proceedings and call for a postponement if there is substantial proof that the service member cannot attend such proceedings because of duty. The Act also protects servicemembers from a court judgment for failure to participate in a divorce trial.
The Uniformed Service Former Spouse Protection Act
This is a federal Act that protects the rights of former spouses of service members. It entitles them to certain privileges such as commissary exchange, medical, and theater under the Morale Welfare and Recreation Program. These privileges only apply if the unmarried former spouse fulfills the following requirements referred to as the 20/20/20 rule:
- They were married to the service member for at least two decades by the time the marriage was annulled.
- The service member has served in the military for at least two decades. This helps determine if they qualify for retirement benefits.
- The 20 years of marriage overlap with the years of service.
Impact of Divorce on Military Benefits
Whether or not you meet the 20/20/20 rule, you can still enjoy certain privileges until your divorce process is finalized. Benefits include retaining your military identification card, receiving commissary, healthcare services, and exchange. However, there some issues you should be aware of:
Loss of Installation
Once the divorce is finalized and the service member moves out, you automatically lose the installation of family housing within 30 days.
Moving expenses for the former spouse of the service member may be covered for by the military. The divorcing spouses can also negotiate settlement terms that accommodate the cost of moving.
Child Custody and Support
Military regulations stipulate that a divorced military parent must continue to support their members, especially children, when a marriage ends. However, these policies require a court order to be effected. Once you obtain a court order seeking child or alimony, you can reset it to the DFAS (Defense Finance Accounting Service) to have the government pay for child support or alimony.
A divorce filed outside the United States can be more complex and frustrating as U.S. courts seldom recognize them. For a less stressful divorce process, it is advisable to file your case in the U.S. Military regulations allow military members to file for divorce in a non-military spouse’s state of residence, service member’s state of residence, or service member’s legal state of residence.
Overall, family members of the military member can return home together with their property before the military member completes their tour of duty. The government covers all expenses. The service member may receive legal advice from the legal assistance office regarding any personal property acquired overseas.
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Understanding Military Divorce: What to Expect
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