When you’re part of a military family, life is filled with unique challenges and experiences. These unique circumstances extend to divorce as well. If you’re facing a military divorce, you might be wondering, “How does military divorce work?” The following aims to demystify the process, providing you with a clear understanding of the steps involved and the unique aspects of military divorce.
Understanding Military Divorce
A military divorce is essentially a civilian divorce but with additional factors to consider due to the military lifestyle. The process itself is similar to civilian divorce, involving filing a petition, serving papers, negotiating terms, and finalizing the divorce. However, there are some unique aspects that make military divorce distinct:
- Jurisdiction: The question of where to file for divorce can be more complex for military families. Typically, you can file in the state where either spouse has legal residency. For military members, this can be the state where they are stationed, their home of record, or the state they claim as their legal residence.
- Service of Process: If the military member is deployed or stationed overseas, serving divorce papers can be more challenging. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) provides protections to ensure that military members can fully participate in the process and are not disadvantaged due to their service.
- Division of Military Benefits: Military pensions and benefits are subject to division in a divorce, but the rules are complex. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) governs how military retirement pay is divided, and it requires a minimum of 10 years of marriage overlapping with 10 years of service for direct payment from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS).
- Child Custody and Visitation: Frequent moves and deployments can complicate child custody and visitation arrangements. Courts will consider the best interests of the child, and military parents can create a family care plan to address potential future deployments.
- Legal Assistance: Military members and their spouses have access to free legal assistance services through the military. However, these lawyers cannot represent you in court, so you may still need to hire a civilian attorney.
Steps to Navigate a Military Divorce
- Consult with a Lawyer: Given the complexities of military divorce, it’s crucial to consult with a lawyer experienced in military family law. They can guide you through the process and ensure your rights are protected. A knowledgeable attorney can help you understand the unique aspects of military divorce, such as the division of military pensions and benefits, jurisdictional issues, and the impact of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) on the divorce process. They can also help you navigate the emotional challenges of divorce, providing support and guidance during this difficult time. Furthermore, an attorney can help you anticipate potential issues and plan accordingly, reducing the likelihood of surprises or setbacks during the divorce process. They can also represent you in negotiations and court proceedings, advocating for your interests and helping you achieve a fair and equitable divorce settlement.
- Determine Jurisdiction: Deciding where to file for divorce is a critical step in the divorce process. This decision can impact various aspects of your divorce, including property division and child custody. For military families, the question of jurisdiction can be more complex due to frequent moves and deployments. You can typically file for divorce in the state where either spouse has legal residency. For military members, this can be the state where they are currently stationed, their home of record, or the state they claim as their legal residence. It’s important to consider the laws of each potential jurisdiction, as they can significantly impact the outcome of your divorce. Maryland courts use an equitable distribution approach, which divides property based on what the court considers fair.
- File and Serve Divorce Papers: Filing the divorce petition initiates the divorce process. The petition outlines your requests for things like property division, child custody, and spousal support. Once the petition is filed, it must be served to your spouse, notifying them of the divorce action. If your spouse is deployed or stationed overseas, serving divorce papers can be more challenging. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) provides protections to ensure that military members can fully participate in the process and are not disadvantaged due to their service. These protections may delay the divorce process until the service member returns from deployment. It’s important to follow all rules and procedures for service of process to avoid delays or complications in your divorce.
- Negotiate Terms: After the divorce petition is served, you and your spouse will have the opportunity to negotiate the terms of your divorce. This includes decisions about property division, child custody, and spousal support. If you and your spouse can agree on these terms, you can submit a settlement agreement to the court for approval. If you can’t agree, these issues will be decided by the court. Negotiations can be challenging, especially when emotions are high. Having an experienced attorney can be invaluable during this process. They can provide objective advice, help you understand your rights and options, and advocate for your interests during negotiations and court proceedings.
Finalize the Divorce: Once all terms are agreed upon, the court will issue a divorce decree, finalizing the divorce. This decree outlines the terms of the divorce, including any obligations for child support or spousal support, the division of property, and arrangements for child custody and visitation. It’s important to understand and comply with all terms of the divorce decree. Failure to do so can result in legal consequences. After the divorce is finalized, you may need to take additional steps to implement the terms of the divorce, such as dividing retirement accounts or transferring property titles. Your attorney can guide you through these steps and ensure that all legal requirements are met.
At Cynthia H. Clark & Associates, we recognize the unique challenges of military divorce, and we’re committed to helping you navigate this complex process. Our experienced attorneys can provide the guidance and advocacy you need to protect your rights and achieve a fair outcome. We invite you to contact us today for a consultation.