Divorce in the Military

Aug 8, 2012 by

If you or someone you know is in the service and planning to get a divorce, you should know that military divorce proceedings differ from divorces taking place between two civilian parties. When one or both parties are of active duty military status, including Guard and Reserves, and retired military, there will be additional dispositions of the divorce decree which will be taken into consideration. It is vitally important that you educate yourself in military divorce law and its effects on dissolution settlement. Your base JAG will be able to offer advice, but will not engage in the proceedings themselves. It will be necessary to seek legal counsel in the civilian sector. In doing so, it is important to make certain that your attorney is versed in divorce law as pertains to military service members.

One of the most important laws affecting military divorce is a Federal law regarding retired military pay. Known as the Uniformed Services Former Spouse’s Protection Act (USFSPA) this doctrine applies to all active duty, Reserve/Guard, NOAA, and USPHS members. The USFSPA entitles states to award up to 50 percent (65 percent including court ordered child support) of the enlisted member’s retired military pay. This figure does not constitute a maximum amount, nor is the full fifty percent always awarded. If awarded, it means the DOD finance department will pay only up to fifty percent of retired military pay, if the award is higher, the service member will be responsible for the additional amount due. Interpretation of this law in civilian courts has caused mass confusion. It is advisable that you and your attorney understand this law fully to avoid confusion. Other matters of dissolution, such as property division, child support, or maintenance will be addressed at the state level following much the same criteria as civilian divorce.

One difference applied to service members is jurisdiction, which allows service members to choose the state they wish to hold proceedings in. If the service member is deployed outside the Unbited States at the time of filing, the process can be delayed until the service member returns stateside. The military divorce often has unique factors requiring experienced counsel. Due to the confusion surrounding USFSPA within the civilian courts, it is recommended that both spouses educate themselves on how the law will affect them in a divorce. It is also advised that due to the complexity of USFSPA, online divorces are not usually recommended for members of the military.


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