Despite the Pentagon’s and branch leaders’ efforts to support service members’ well-being and family relationships, military life proves challenging for some couples, as evidenced by the high rate of divorce. The rate of military divorces is on the decline, but it is still considerably high. The divorce rate was 3.1 percent for men and women in the military in 2014, according to Military.com.
Service members have access to various counseling services, many free of charge. If you are having marital issues, consider speaking with your installation’s chaplain for family counseling referrals. If you have already exhausted all of your resources and feel that a divorce is inevitable, we encourage you to speak to a military benefits attorney who handles military divorces so you can get a good feel for the process and what to expect.
If you or your spouse resides in or is stationed in Maryland, you are welcomed to call our military divorce lawyers at Hecht & Associates for a legal consultation: 301-587-2099.
How do military divorces differ from civilian divorces?
To quickly preface, “military divorce” is actually a misnomer. It is technically not a legal term; a divorce is a divorce. However, there are differences in the way that courts handle the proceedings when one or both spouses are service members. First, military divorces are subject not just to state laws, but also to federal laws, a fact which can complicate matters. Below are some other notable distinguishing characteristics of military divorces:
- Filing options – While civilians must file divorces in one party’s resident state, military members or their spouses can file for divorce in one of three states: the non-military member’s state of residence, the member’s state of residence, or the state where the member is currently stationed. Your attorney can advise the best state in which to file.
- Time frames – When a service member is deployed, the service member can postpone the divorce. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act provides that deployed service members who cannot take leave can postpone a divorce until they return to the U.S. They also have an extra 90 days to respond to divorce complaints. Military laws also provide members with the option of retaining a lawyer to handle all the divorce proceedings ex parte (without his/her presence).
- Benefits – Because service members and their spouses (and sometimes ex-spouses) are entitled to various military benefits, e.g. base privileges, retirement, and survivor benefits, the divorce must appropriately address each of these and a survivor benefits lawyer can help.
How do courts handle military benefits in a divorce?
The Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) oversees and administers all child support, alimony, and retirement payments from the service member to the other spouse under The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA). The USFSPA governs a lot of the big areas of concern during a military divorce, including benefits for the commissary, the exchange, and health care, as well as for military retired pay.
Generally, non-service member former spouses are not automatically entitled to benefits. Rather, the divorce decree must specify entitlement for certain types of benefits. This includes retirement benefits, the thrift savings plan, and the Survivor Benefit Plan.
Other benefits for former spouses are contingent upon statutory federal law. For instance, the courts can calculate the amount of military pension the non-member former spouse is entitled to using one of the three methods: net present value, deferred distribution, or reserve jurisdiction.
Military OneSource explains to former spouses of service members: “Whether you are entitled to commissary, exchange, or medical benefits depends on the length of time you were married, the length of time your spouse served in the military and the number of years your marriage overlapped with his or her military service.” Eligibility for full Tricare and base privileges depend upon what is referred to as the “20/20/20 rule.” Under this rule, former spouses qualify for these benefits in full if:
- they were married to their service member spouse for at least 20 years;
- their ex-spouse was in military for at least 20 years; and
- their marriage overlapped the period of service by at least 20 years.
Where can I find a lawyer to help me with my military divorce?
Because of the complexities, paperwork, and red tape of a military divorce, it is highly advisable to retain a survivor benefits attorney to help you navigate the process. Issues such as child custody, support, and property distribution are challenging enough for civilian divorces; with the added regulations and agencies involved, it is all the more so for military divorces.
If you are contemplating a divorce, our team at Hecht & Associates can help. Contact us to schedule an initial phone or in-person consultation with a military benefits lawyer where we can answer your questions and explain if and how we may be able to assist you and benefit your case. Call us today at 301-587-2099 and speak with a survivor benefits attorney.