Whether you’re in the military or you're a civilian, most aspects of your divorce process are governed by the state in which you file. That state's laws determine how the court will divide your marital property, how it will calculate child support, and how it will decide issues of custody. In those respects, your divorce is like any other. If you’re on active duty, however, there are some procedural considerations, especially if you're deployed overseas.
Research state divorce laws. If you're deployed, ask someone stateside to do it for you. As a service member, you most likely have a choice as to where you file for divorce. You can choose the jurisdiction that has the most favorable laws for your personal concerns. The Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act allows you to file in the state where you lived when you entered the service. You can also usually file in the state where you’re stationed, or where your spouse lives.
Talk with your spouse. If you’re on active duty and especially if you're deployed, an uncontested divorce may be your only option. This means that you and your spouse settle out of court on all issues. You can work through the details of a settlement agreement via mail, email and the telephone, even if you’re not currently residing in the same state. If your divorce is contested, appearing in court for extended litigation might be impossible if you’re not actually stationed in the state where you’ve filed, although some states will accept written testimony from you.
Find a good attorney in the state where you’ve decided to file. Because of geographical logistics, you may not have the option of handling your divorce on your own. Select someone with experience in the area of military divorce, because although state law governs most issues, you’ll need someone who understands the complexities of your pay scale and your retirement benefits.
Handle the remainder of your divorce process by mail, if you’re not filing in the state where you’re stationed. Even if you’re overseas, this is generally possible with a good attorney, although the process may slow down some because you’re out of the country. Mail times will come into play, but your attorney should be able to prepare all documents on your behalf and send them to you for your signature via commercial courier or international mail.
Tips & Warnings
If you’re not the spouse who files for divorce, the SCRA offers you other options. You can accept or decline service of your spouse’s divorce papers while you're deployed, and for up to 60 additional days after you come off active duty. Contact an attorney in the states to apply to the court for this courtesy on your behalf. If you don’t want to deal with your divorce while you’re serving, you don’t have to.
References & Resources
- Bray, Chappell & Patterson: San Antonio Military Divorce Attorney
- Law Offices of Cutter and Lax: California Army Divorce Attorney
- JAG Law Blog: You Can Get Divorced While Deployed
- Divorce Source: Military Divorce – The Mechanics of Divorcing in the Military
- Lawyers.com: Overview of Getting a Military Divorce
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images