How to File a Divorce in Your State of Residency While in the Military

By Heather Frances J.D.

Military members must get divorced in state civilian courts, and the basic divorce steps are similar whether the divorcing couple is military or civilian. However, military service can complicate the divorce when it comes to issues of residency. State laws determine where you, as the military member, can file your divorce case.

Determining Where You Can File

State laws determine who can file for divorce in each state's courts. It may not be enough that you live in a particular state, since states typically require a period of residency before you can file. For example, Florida law generally requires at least six months of residence in the state before you can file for divorce there, and you must prove your residency with a driver's license, government identification card or other official documentation. Often, military members can choose from multiple states where they are eligible to file. For example, you may be able to file in your legal state of residency--typically the state where you pay taxes--and the state where you are currently stationed.

Filing While Overseas

Filing while overseas can be more difficult than filing while you are at home, but it is not impossible. Many states, like Virginia and Florida, allow military members to file while deployed if they claim legal residency in the state or are stationed there. For example, if you are stationed in Virginia but deployed to Afghanistan, you may be able to file for divorce in Virginia even while you are overseas. You may also be able to file in your spouse's state of residency since states typically only require one spouse to live in the state to obtain a divorce there.

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Serving a Military Spouse

If your spouse is also a military member, you may run into problems trying to serve her with the divorce paperwork, thereby delaying your case. Generally, states require you to serve your spouse personally with notice of the divorce lawsuit before the case can proceed. Many states also allow a form of substituted service, such as service by mail, so you may be able to serve her in these ways even if she is stationed overseas. If you have the ability to choose between your state of residency and your spouse's state, you may want to check out the service options in each state before deciding where to file.

Military Pensions and Other Factors

Where you file can also affect other aspects of your divorce, including child support calculations and division of your military pension. Since state laws determine how your divorce court addresses these matters, choosing a state in which to file may determine the outcome of many divorce issues. For example, though states can divide military pensions according to their laws, Puerto Rico courts cannot divide military pensions. The cost of traveling to another state for the divorce might be another factor to consider. For example, if you recently were stationed in a state far away from your spouse, you may wish to wait to file until you qualify to file in your new state. This may help you avoid the cost of traveling to your spouse's state for hearings or other divorce-related issues.

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What Determines the State You Get Divorced In?

Typically, you file for divorce in the jurisdiction where you currently reside. Most states, with the exception of South Dakota and Washington, require that you be a resident of the state for a certain length of time before you file for divorce. This length of time varies by state. South Dakota and Washington simply require that you be a "resident" without specifying a length of time you need to live there first. If your situation is complex and you are unsure about where to file for divorce, consult an attorney experienced in family law.

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The divorce process is governed entirely by state law. Often, significant differences between states regarding the recognized grounds for divorce and how matters related to custody, property, and spousal support are decided. However, you are not free to simply file in any jurisdiction you choose; you must meet the state specific residency requirements. These laws require you to have some connection with the state before pursuing a divorce action.

How Long Do You Have to Live in Tennessee Before You Can Divorce Someone From Another State?

Filing for divorce can be a confusing process and you may even be uncertain regarding where you can file. If you have recently moved to Tennessee and would like to file for divorce, there are several issues to consider including the length of time you have lived in Tennessee and whether your spouse may have filed for divorce in his state of residence. However, it is possible to file for divorce in Tennessee if your spouse lives in another state.

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