What Should You Know Before Divorcing A Member Of The Military?

Law Articles

If you've recently made the very difficult decision to file for divorce from your spouse, you may be worried and wondering about your next steps. While the divorce process can be relatively simple if you and your spouse agree on most of the big issues -- division of child custody, child support, and division of assets -- this process may become more complex if the spouse you are divorcing is a member of the armed forces. Read on to learn more about some of the special rules and provisions that apply when it comes to military divorce.

Why is military divorce treated differently?

Each state has its own specific laws governing the divorce and child custody process. These laws can often vary widely -- from a presumption that each spouse is entitled to half the marital state to a presumption that each spouse can only leave with what he or she brought into the marriage. Although state laws govern divorces, the military often has its own rules, which apply equally to service members in all states.

The primary reason military divorce is treated differently from civilian divorce is due to the nature of the military itself. Your spouse may spend months or even years apart from your family while stationed overseas, which can interfere with a visitation schedule. The majority of your spouse's retirement savings (or your entire family's retirement savings) may be tied up in a military pension you won't be able to access until long after your divorce is finalized. Special rules are needed to ensure that those divorcing members of the military are entitled to the same (or similar) protections afforded those who married civilians.

What should you know about a military divorce?

There are a few things that are done quite differently in a military divorce.

  • Dividing a military pension

One of the key issues in your divorce -- particularly if you have few other assets -- is the dividing of the military pension. In many cases, you may have foregone a career while following your spouse to different military bases across the country. Although you might have been willing to make this sacrifice at the time, you certainly didn't intend it to leave you single and without any retirement savings. However, without some special attention by your attorney and the courts, your spouse may be able to argue that he or she is entitled to the entire military pension.

Fortunately, if you've been married to your spouse for 10 years or longer, you're entitled to half of his or her military pension. Even if you've been married less than 10 years, you should be able to negotiate the value of the pension in the divorce. If you're left without much in retirement savings, it may be worth your while to engage an experienced divorce attorney who can help you fight for all you deserve.

  • Arranging child custody and support

Child custody can be another sticky issue when one parent spends months or years at a time outside the country. In these cases, you may find that the bulk of day-to-day care can fall to you, sometimes preventing you from seeking steady employment. Even if you're amenable to an arrangement that provides you with almost full physical custody, you may wish for a slightly higher child support payment to offset the inconvenience of always being "on call" or not having another backup for late daycare pickups or to chaperone on school trips. Because your spouse will receive higher pay while he or she is stationed in a combat zone, the court may be amenable to ordering a portion of that slightly higher pay to be paid to you as either child or spousal support.


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