Military Divorce and Active Duty
When you’re living as a civilian, divorce isn’t really all that difficult. You decide to split up, and then you file wherever you live. When one spouse is in the military, though, it’s not uncommon for a couple to actually own property in one state, be living in another state, and have gotten married in yet another. As if that’s not complicated enough, the couple could have been moved to a state where they’re living, but they might not have been there long enough to achieve resident status. So, where do they file for divorce? Does it matter?
Laws can vary considerably from state to state, and where you file can make a huge difference in how the divorce proceeds, and how both of you end up once it’s finalized. For example, in Puerto Rico, the courts won’t divide a military pension between the spouse and the service member. Needless to say, that works out very well for the service member, but for the spouse, not so much.
Generally speaking, you have to file in a location where you’ve actually lived – not just where you paid taxes. And for military couples, it doesn’t really matter what your home of record is. If you can both agree on the state in which the divorce should occur, that’s great, but if the divorce is acrimonious, jurisdiction can become a battleground. Then, each spouse is going to want to file in the jurisdiction that will benefit him or her the most. A no-fault divorce is going to be easy in almost any state, but some states still allow for fault. The “innocent” party may be able to claim a larger share of the assets, and that’s when the battle begins.
What if Your Spouse is Deployed?
If your spouse is deployed, and you’re at home, you can file for divorce. But if you do, courts are very sensitive to service members rights, and rightly so. It can be extremely difficult to have a person serving in the military served with papers, but the court is not going to count that against him or her or allow the proceedings to continue without him or her. The court will likely also be more willing to permit postponements and continuances until he or she returns from a deployment before deciding on any issues or scheduling any hearings. While you may have reasons to want to get divorced quickly, the court will most likely side with a military spouse when it comes to timing.
So What Do You Do?
No one should be trapped in a toxic marriage – that almost goes without saying. However, if you’re in a military marriage, you have a number of things to think about – where to file, when to file, and what is worth fighting over- such as pensions and assets.
If you’re going through a military divorce, your first course of action should be to consult a lawyer who has a high level of expertise in the field. Military divorce is sometimes much like civilian divorce, but often, it’s very different. You need an expert who can tell you what your options are and help to guide you through this very painful phase of your life.