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What’s The Difference Between a Military Divorce and a Civilian Divorce?

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Over one million American military members are stationed across the country and overseas. Military marriages go through their own set of unique challenges, and so does military divorce. Although there are some similarities between civilian and military divorce, there are complex issues unique to military divorce.

Only military spouses understand the true picture of difficulties associated with a military marriage. And in most cases, military divorces need the help of an attorney experienced in handling military divorce cases. While a military and civilian divorce will be treated the same in a family court, the military often has different rules.

Why Do Military Marriages Fail?

Couples in civilian marriages often put their marriages first above work and everything else. But this is not always the case in a military marriage as duty comes first. This means such a marriage needs an understanding spouse.

Most of the marriages among U.S. armed forces fail in most cases because of infidelity on one or both spouses. You will hear stories of military wives hanging out at clubs and cheating on their husbands who are deployed in different locations. Similarly, you will listen to stories of military husbands cheating on their spouses at home or while deployed.

Where Should I File for Divorce?

filing divorce

The law typically requires someone to file for divorce in the state the person has a residence. The law in each state will dictate how much time the person must have lived in that state before filing for divorce, e.g., three months, six months, etc. However, this is not always the case for a military divorce.

A military family will constantly be moving around. The active service member will be moving from one state or country to another more often than the rest of the family. Before choosing to file, it is vital to understand how that particular state handles divorce and military pension.

What Rights Do I Have as a Service Member?

Service members are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and protects them while on active duty. Once one spouse serves the other with divorce papers in a civilian divorce, a response must be made within a specified period. However, the SCRA asserts that:

  • A “stay” or postponement of an administrative or civil court proceeding is extended if the active service member proves that s/he is unable to attend because of duty; or
  • Some protections on default judgments for failure to respond to a lawsuit or appear in a trial are granted.

This means a divorce case can prolong by months or years because it will depend on deployment. While the initial stay is 90 days, the court can extend this period after the 90 days elapse. You will need to make written requests for this “stay.”

Will The Military Give Me a Lawyer?

military divorce

Most bases have military legal assistance lawyers. These lawyers cannot represent you but can help you figure out your divorce process and also:

  • Write letters on your behalf
  • Negotiate on your behalf
  • Review your legal documents
  • Answer any of your legal questions

Similarly, the spouse of a military service member can also access the help of a military legal assistance attorney at any base and branch. If you are low-income, you can always seek help from non-military legal aid organizations, for instance, by following these steps and searching for “divorce.”

Is an Overseas (OCONUS) Military Divorce a Possibility?

A divorce outside the united states can be complicated as U.S. courts may fail to recognize such a divorce. It’s usually recommended to file in the U.S. if you want U.S. divorce laws to apply in your case.

U.S. divorce laws often allow the service members or their spouses to apply either in the state where the non-military spouse lives, the state where the service member is stationed, or the state where the service member claims legal residency.

If you have property overseas, you may want to talk to your civilian lawyer about it or a military legal assistance lawyer.

What Happens to My Military ID Card While the Case Is Pending?

Only the U.S. government has authority over a military card and not a service member. Therefore, a service member cannot take away a spouse’s military card.

Can I Keep My Military Card Once the Divorce Is Finalized?

You can retain your military card if you stay unmarried and meet the 20/20/20 rule. This rule requires at least 20 years of marriage, at least 20 years of service by the servicemember, and at least 20 years of overlap of the marriage and military service.

What Are My Rights as A Divorced Military Spouse?

rights of a military spouse

The military regards divorce as a private civil matter which should be addressed in a civilian court. Nonetheless, military spouses can access military legal assistance services at no cost. Your communication with a legal assistance attorney is private and confidential. While these military lawyers can’t represent you or prepare documents on your behalf, they offer helpful advice on child custody, wills, and taxes. You may want to talk to a civilian divorce lawyer for a divorce with contested issues like division of property, alimony, or child custody.

The most prominent issue in a military divorce is the issue of deployment for several months or more than a year. This scenario often has a direct impact on child support, modification of custody, and visitation orders. If both parents are service members and are deployed simultaneously, it means there will be a third party who will have legal custody of the children.

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Mike Mwangi

Most people will agree with me that divorce is a very difficult time. And for me, I’ve taken the path of helping people through this transition of life by giving them information that will make their lives a lot less stressful as they adjust. I work in a legal research role with Divorce Mistakes Network and have assisted leading law firms with research and delivering relevant content for those facing divorce. Whether lawyer, law firm, or other divorce-related professionals (mediators, financial advisors, accountants, therapists, counselors, etc) I help bridge the gap between legal minds and those affected by divorce. Let’s connect with ideas for content that helps everyone successfully conquer divorce.

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