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Divorcing a Military Service Member

Divorce is a difficult decision to come to, no matter who you are or how long you’ve been married. There are things to consider besides the dissolution of the marriage and parting of the couple, though that in itself can be a heartbreaking prospect. Regardless of how any couple arrives at the point that divorce is the only way forward, there are legal and financial issues that will need to be considered. If there are children, custody and child support will need to be decided, along with splitting assets. For the military couple, a divorce can be far more complicated.

Military couples often live far from either of their home states because it’s common for military members to be deployed repeatedly over their tenure. Many military couples who met while in the military can be from different states entirely, which means their family support systems may not be near each other or near where they are currently stationed. When military members finalize a divorce, it can also impact the benefits that the non-military spouse receives. There are a number of things to consider for a military divorce, which can be confusing without any guidance.

Residency Issues Specific to Military Divorce Proceedings

Residency is one issue that is often very different for military divorces than civilian proceedings. Military couples may be deployed to several states over the course of their marriage, they may have property in one state but have been recently deployed to another. Essentially, there may be a number of different states involved at the point the dissolution of marriage is being considered.

Different states do have their own laws that govern divorce proceedings.States have clear parameters which may differ on spousal support, percentage of child support, division of assets, and rulings on retirement plans. It’s important to understand what these laws are and how they will impact the final judgment, in the event that there are options in which state the divorce will be filed in.

The state where you file for divorce will have jurisdiction over the divorce proceedingsand their ruling will be legally binding for both spouses, regardless of whether they each live in that state currently or in the future. There are set requirements to file for divorce in any state. First, one or both parties need to live in the state currently. Second, one or both parties need to be a legal resident of the state. And last, both parties need to agree to file in the state – so if both parties do not live in the same state, they both need to agree upon which state the divorce will be filed.

Benefits and Children’s Benefits Specific to Military Divorce

Children of military members are eligible for benefits until the age of 21. Spouses, however, must return their military dependent ID card once the divorce is finalized. In the event of a divorce, children of military members who do not live in their household should have their own military dependent ID card (in the event that the child lives with the military parent, they would not need their own ID until the age of 10).Children will be entitled to benefits until they reach the age limit, no matter how long the service member has been active or whether or not the service member retires prior to the child reaching 21.

Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and Utah Divorce Proceedings

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)directly impacts those military members who are currently deployed to active duty. The SCRA provides relief from domestic obligations, such as bills and civil actions,and suspends the military member’s need to meet court dates or otherwise address divorce proceedings, etc. This act was put in place to help service member’s families meet their needs while still protecting the rights of the military member from court proceedings in his or her absence. It allows military members to concentrate full attention on their service.

Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA)

TheUniformed Services Former Spouse’s Protection Act (USFSPA) is designed to provide benefits to the former spouse of a military member, which may include portions of medical care, pension or retirement benefits, and in some cases commissary benefits. Military pensions can be a complicated matter, so it’s advisable that any legal counsel has experience with military divorce proceedings. The USFSPA will impact the final judgment on property, pension, and other benefits.The division of assets, such as retirement, may be negotiable and the amount will be awarded by the specific state that the divorce is granted in.

Spouse Eligibility for Benefits

In cases of a military divorce, other benefits must be considered, including: survivor’s benefits, life insurance policies, and medical benefits. Commissary benefits and medical benefits may not be applicable if the years of marriage were not substantial enough or the time of service was not long enough during the course of the marriage.

  • 20/20/20 Rule:

    This rule means that the former spouse was married to a service member for 20 years, the service member had at least 20 years of service, and the marriage lasted for 20 years of that member’s service. In this case, the spouse is entitled to full benefits.

  • 20/20/15 Rule:

    This rule means that the former spouse was married to a service member for 20 years, that member served at least 20 years, and the marriage lasted for 15 years of their service. In this case, the spouse is not entitled to commissary or full benefits. They are entitled to a year of medical benefits designed to allow them time to find their own healthcare coverage.

See more about healthcare benefits for former spouses outside of these rules here.

Family Housing Benefits

While jointly owned properties are part of the divorce decree settled by the courts, military family housing is there for the express purpose of housing the military member and his/her family. Once the divorce is finalized, the non-military spouse will have a set amount of time to vacate the property. This time period may be different for different branches of service. It is illegal for a non-military person who is not related to the military personnel to reside in family housing.

Child and Spousal Supports

All branches of the service have their own variation on policies which require their service members to provide financial support to spouses immediately. These policies are in place to ensure the well-being of family members during the time it takes to secure court dates and settle the matter legally. In these cases, the amount is set by a commander and meant to be a temporary support while legal matters are situated.

Military Divorce Attorney Utah

Military divorce can be more complicated than civilian proceedings. It’s important that legal representation is undertaken. Call Schmidt Law Firm for a free 30-min consultation, to discuss you and your child(ren)’s continuing military benefits or other family matters!

Schmidt Law Firm Law Office understands the unique challenges that military couples face during and after a divorce in Utah. We can help you overcome the complications that are presented by aspects of military service such as:

  • Preservation of benefits
  • Child custody issues and how they are impacted by deployment
  • Child support
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