What a Civilian Spouse Needs to Know When Seeking a Military DivorceMore than 2.3 million Americans are members of the armed services with many of those being married, the issue of military divorce affects the lives of many families. While all divorces accomplish the same objective of terminating marital status and resolving issues concerning child custody, visitation, alimony, child support, and the division of property and debts, the way these end results are accomplished differ significantly for civilians and members of the armed services. If you are a member of the armed services or the spouse of someone in the military, there are special issues and procedures you need to be aware of when seeking a dissolution of your marriage. We have answered some key questions about military divorce in this blog post.

How does my spouse’s deployment overseas impact our divorce process?

Because the federal government supports the public policy of allowing those in the armed forces to concentrate exclusively on their military duties, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act provides special protections for members of the military who are deployed. The member of the armed services may postpone the divorce process until returning from deployment. The spouse in the military has the option of responding to the divorce within 90 days after returning from deployment or retaining an attorney to handle the matter while the service member is deployed.

Where does the divorce proceeding take place?

When both parties to a divorce are civilians, the divorce takes place in the state where one or both spouses reside subject to minimum residency requirements. However, there are more available options if a party is in the military, so legal advice is important to determine the best forum to file. Sometimes that best choice will be the state where the non-military spouse resides because of the convenience of having the divorce handled close to home. However, there may be differences in the law that make it preferable to file in another state. Depending on the specific circumstances of your situation, you may have up to three options of where to file for divorce: (1) the state where you reside; (2) the state where the member of the military claims residence; or (3) the state where a spouse is stationed. Because state laws can differ significantly on issues like property division, alimony, and child custody, it is not a good idea to proceed without legal counsel when determining where to file for divorce.

How are military benefits impacted by divorce?

If the marriage and term of active duty amount to at least twenty years in duration with a minimum of a twenty year overlap between both, the non-military member may continue to use the commissary, medical facilities, and exchange. If the overlap period is only fifteen years, the civilian spouse may use these benefits for a year following the divorce judgment. Any lesser period of overlap will mean that the civilian spouse is disqualified from taking advantage of these benefits.

What can I expect in terms of a share of my spouse’s military retirement?

If the service member has at least twenty years of service with at least ten years of this time overlapping with marriage to one’s spouse, the civilian spouse is entitled to half of his or her partner’s military pension. These rights may be negotiated away and traded for other community property, such as the service member’s interest in the family residence.

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The above information is designed solely to illustrate general principles of law, and does not constitute a specific legal opinion on individual cases. We suggest that you contact experienced legal counsel for a specific opinion tailored to your individual circumstances.

If you have questions about divorce involving a member of the armed services, our experienced New Mexico military divorce attorneys may be able to help. Jay Goodman & Associates offers a free consultation in our centrally located offices in Santa Fe and Albuquerque so that we can discuss your situation and answer your questions. Call us today to schedule your free consultation at (505) 989-8117 to learn about your rights and options.



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