The Difference between Military Divorce and Civilian Divorce

The Difference between Military Divorce and Civilian Divorce

There are over a million American active duty personnel stationed worldwide at any given time. Many of them are married and many of them don’t manage to stay married. And when they don’t, they and their spouses can end up facing a whole slew of issues that their civilian counterparts who are breaking up don’t have to deal with.

If your soon-to-be ex is in the military, you can end up facing a number of complications, including where your divorce will be filed, how alimony and child support will be calculated, how to divide the military pension, and what to do about custody and visitation if children are involved.

Rights and Obligations

Service members who are getting divorced, and their spouses, have obligations and rights that can vary substantially from those of their civilian counterparts. For openers, where do you file? The court that is going to provide you with your final divorce decree has to have jurisdiction – that means that you have to file where the military spouse is in residence, or alternatively, in a state that the two of you can agree upon.

Military members don’t get a pass on supporting their children – the Department of Defense insists that its service members comply with any custody, support, and visitation orders, and will even impose punishment on service members who don’t comply. The punishment can be as severe as a dishonorable discharge. This could be why, statistically, service members are much more compliant when it comes to support orders than civilians tend to be.

Generally speaking, spousal and child support are controlled by the state, but there can be complications with calculating the amount of support, modifying agreements, and enforcing orders when the service member has been deployed.

Visitation and Custody

In any divorce, sharing custody of the kids can be problematic. With a military divorce, it becomes even more complex. Service members can move frequently, and they may have no idea where they’re going to be deployed next. For this reason, when children are involved in a military divorce, it’s important to have the assistance of a military divorce lawyer who is skilled in navigating these complex issues.

Pensions and Other Benefits

Often, we lose sight of the fact that the military is an employer like any other. Like private sector employers, the military provides benefits like insurance, pensions, and more. All of these are tangible benefits, and therefore subject to division under a divorce agreement. Most of the time, state law will prevail, but again, these issues can be complex and may require the assistance of a lawyer who specializes in military divorce.

You Will Almost Certainly Need Help

Unless the military service member has been in the armed forces for a very short time, or your joint assets are very limited, it is not advisable for you to try to handle your own divorce or agree to any kind of settlement without getting expert advice. Generally speaking, military spouses should seek expert assistance throughout every step of the divorce.

There are various online resources that can help you with issues like child support, pension division and alimony. A simple Google search using the criteria, “military divorce” will direct you to a number of web pages that can get you started and provide a wealth of information. In the final analysis, though, there’s no substitute for a lawyer who specializes in military divorce and who knows how to navigate the complex issues that make military divorce so different from that of your civilian counterparts.