When it comes to the military divorce rate, enlisted military supervisors rank at the top with a divorce rate of 30 percent. Other branches and occupations also see a greater incidence than the general population.
What makes service members more likely to divorce? Factors such as deployment, mental health, and career stress rank among the primary culprits of marital trouble.
Are you part of a military family? And in the unenviable position of a dissolving marriage?
If so, you should understand the basics of how military divorce works. Here’s what you need to know during this difficult time.
Divorce is a stressful process, but it can feel moreso for a military family. That’s because you’ll face unique issues and circumstances that other families don’t have to wrestle with.
For starters, where should you file for divorce? The law typically permits you to file in the state where either spouse has a legal residence.
There’s a catch, though. You must show proof of a minimum of six months residence in the state.
The Division of Military Pensions
What else do you need to know before filing divorce paperwork? You must understand how the state where you file handles military pensions and their division.
The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) is the federal law that applies to military pensions. It contains a provision permitting a military member’s legal residence to always take jurisdiction in military pension division matters.
If you file in your home state and your spouse lives in another, your state’s family court may not have the right to divide a military pension. That said, your spouse may choose to permit that state’s court to divide the pension.
Some states have additional legislation governing the division of pensions. It’s a complicated subject that can only be addressed on a state-by-state basis.
So, consult with an attorney. Only skilled legal counsel can help you best leverage your pension rights.
Delays in the Process
The Service Members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) can also impact your divorce proceedings. Typically, you serve a spouse divorce paperwork. Then, they must file a formal response within a specific timeframe.
But the federal law, SCRA, allows an active-duty service member to request a “stay” of divorce or a “stay” for “other claims.”
This “stay” delays divorce proceedings. As for “other claims,” they include custody, child support, property division, military division, and spousal support.
To take advantage of this law, your spouse must demonstrate their duties prevent them from responding to or participating in a court action. As you may have already guessed, the SCRA covers other types of non-criminal cases, too.
An initial “stay” lasts for 90 days, delaying court action as long as the military member’s duties get in the way of their ability to participate in the legal action.
To receive a “stay,” a service member must make a written request. They can search sample “stay” requests and cover letters online, but each state has unique rules. So, we recommend consulting a lawyer.
Legal Assistance Provided by the Military
On most bases, military personnel will find legal assistance attorneys, no matter the branch. While these attorneys aren’t able to represent them in family court, they can provide guidance and assistance.
What are some of the tasks they can help someone employed in the military with? They can:
- Review and revise legal documents
- Write letters
- Negotiate on an individual’s behalf
- Answer questions
If you’re the spouse of a service member, you may also seek legal advice from a military attorney. You can choose any branch of the service and any base.
That means a Navy wife can get assistance from a Coast Guard legal assistance office. And an Army husband may request help from a Marine Corps legal assistance office.
Healthcare Coverage Following a Divorce
If you’re a non-military spouse, you have two options following a divorce. If you were married for at least 20 years of the service member’s active service, then you’re eligible for the “20/20/20 rule.” This means no-cost coverage under TRICARE.
What if you already have another primary insurance, then TRICARE will function as your secondary insurance.
The vast majority of military spouses don’t qualify for the “20/20/20 rule.”
What options do they have? They can participate in the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP). This coverage option lasts for 36 months.
In some cases, other extenuating circumstances may permit an extension of this coverage. If you’re a non-military spouse, contact TRICARE to discuss your options.
How much child support will you have to pay following a divorce? That depends on state law.
The court will take a look at the total entitlements of the service member. It requires consent in writing of your spouse or another court hearing to change this amount.
If you’re a service member, you must provide adequate child support for your children. If you’re a non-military spouse, you may contact the legal assistance attorney on a base or your spouse’s commanding officer to help if you’re not receiving this support.
Savings and Benefit Plans
Active members of the military may contribute to a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) during active service. The TSP represents their retirement savings plan and is similar to a 401(k) or IRA. If you’re a non-military spouse, don’t overlook this asset.
This TSP may be divided between the parties or used as a bargaining chip for other assets.
You should also be aware of military retirement and divorce issues such as dividing up assets like the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP). This death benefit may be purchased by service members when they retire.
SBP beneficiaries are typically spouses or former spouses and receive payment when the SBP policyholder dies.
If your spouse doesn’t have SBP coverage, then the military pension benefits you receive when they die will end. In the case of divorce, the court may require SBP coverage after divorce.
As you can see, there’s a lot at stake, whether you’re a service member or a non-military spouse. Don’t leave these military retirement divorce issues to chance.
Find a Military Divorce Lawyer
Now that you have a better understanding of military divorce, you should find a lawyer. As you see, there’s plenty at stake at the end of a marriage, particularly a military one. You deserve to understand your rights, so don’t delay when it comes to obtaining good legal advice.
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