Is Divorce Really Different For The Military?

Is Divorce Really Different For The Military?

According to Defense Department info, divorce rates among the military are on a steady increase, from 2.6 percent in 2001 (when the U.S. forces began operations in Afghanistan) to 3.7 percent in 2011. There is no single reason for this increase, but for many military spouses, it can be difficult to lose the connection the unique culture that military members have on top of the normal stress and sadness of a divorce. However, a military divorce has both emotional and practical components. Understanding military divorces will do a lot to ensure a fair and balanced outcome. This entails not only knowing the differing laws as well and how they apply versus civilians, but an understanding of military divorce benefits and how they can help both you, your former spouse, and your children, if applicable.

What Are The Differences?

When it comes to being divorced in the military, the differences between this and civilian divorce aren’t necessarily in the letter of the law. Instead, the biggest issues you are likely to deal with are factors of the military lifestyle that impede and alter the typical divorce process. For example, if one of you are on active duty or has a permanent station overseas, this may extend the amount of time the process takes. Some states have relaxed the residency requirements for active duty service personnel who want to file for divorce in the state he or she is stationed, but this is no guarantee. As a rule of thumb, you will generally have one of three options when it comes to where to file for divorce.

  • State where the spouse filing resides.
  • State where the military member is stationed.
  • State where the military member claims legal residency.

At this point, state law will take over with regard to things like property distribution, custody, and child support.

Another area where things are different is when it comes to how benefits are handled. Our country provides great benefits to military and their families, but what happens when the family is changed? One of the first things you should do is understand the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act.  The aim of this is to provide a federal statute for the military, guiding them to accept state statutes on addressing issues, such as child support, spousal support, and military retirement pay/pension. Depending on the state, military retired pay may be able to be accepted as property as opposed to income, which requires a radically different legal approach during divorce.

In some cases, the military has provisions to help in this regard. For example, payment of the former spouse’s share of military retirement is paid directly by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) to the former spouse if there were at least 10 years of marriage that overlapped with 10 years of military service. If you have served for less than 10 years, a court may authorize you to pay a portion, but payment would come from the spouse as opposed to directly from the DFAS. Long-time military spouses are also entitled to other benefits like full medical, commissary and exchange privileges when:

  • The couple was married for 20 years or more.le service toward retirement pay.
  • There was at least a 20-year overlap of marriage and military service.

Seeking A Professional

While the military’s rules on the books are designed to help military spouses, there are tons of different scenarios where the laws on rules on the books don’t provide a clear answer to a certain scenario. For this reason, getting a proper divorce lawyer is not something that you want to try to skimp on. The military can help you get the ball rolling with legal assistance attorneys who are located on most bases. They can’t actually represent you, but their role is to provide you with some guidance as well as fulfilling certain tasks like:

  • Writing letters for you.
  • Reviewing and revising legal documents.
  • Negotiating on your behalf,
  • Answering questions, including those of your private lawyer, if you have one.

Both members and spouses of service members can seek out one of these military assistance lawyers from any branch, and while they are an asset, private attorneys will be often able to put together custom work for your life situation. Try to keep in mind when you are looking for a lawyer to find someone with knowledge both of the military benefits system as well as the state laws on the books where you choose to file. If possible, ask if they have done military divorces.

In a way, the ways that military divorce differs can be more frustrating than simply different laws, as you often have to do your own legwork to figure out what applies to you. However, by doing your due diligence and getting help when it fails, you can ensure you still get what you are entitled to.

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