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3 Ways Military Divorce Differs From Civilian Divorce

You might think that divorcing while in the military or as the spouse of a military servicemember is essentially the same as a normal divorce. In some ways, you'd be right. Military spouses have the same concerns as those who aren't in the military when it comes to divorce. The process for getting divorced is also essentially the same.

However, there are a few key differences. Here are three ways military and civilian divorces differ.

Your divorce will involve both state and federal laws

Military divorce is not only governed by state laws but also federal laws. For example, federal laws may affect how the couple divides military pension benefits, as well as how spousal support and child support are enforced. While state laws typically affect support issues and child custody, the military itself has special regulations governing support obligations for dependents.

Federal law also protects servicemen and women in the U.S. military from divorce proceedings while on active duty. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) protects servicemembers from being sued, which would include a divorce, while they are on active duty and up to 60 days following their return from deployment.

Where you file divorce matters

In a civilian divorce, couples typically file for divorce in the state where they currently reside. In a military divorce, where you file becomes important. In general, you can still file for divorce, but where you file could have repercussions for your case, particularly in terms of spousal support, child support and custody, as mentioned above. In general, military spouses can file:

  • Where the non-military spouse currently resides
  • Where the military spouse is stationed
  • Where the military spouse can claim legal residency

Default judgments generally don't apply

Normally, when spouses don't respond to divorce papers, the process moves forward according to the state's laws governing default judgments. This generally means the case proceeds as normal, but without the defendant present to protect his or her rights. The judge may then enter a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff.

Because of the SCRA, those in the military may have the option to delay any legal action for the duration of their military service or up to 90 days after they retire or leave the military. They may also reopen a case decided by default judgment within this timeframe if their ability to defend their position was directly related to their military duties and they have just cause to pursue an alternative settlement.

All of these differences underscore the importance of working with attorney who understands how military regulations affect divorce and other family law issues. Whether you currently serve in the military or you are married to a military servicemember, an experienced military divorce lawyer can help you protect your rights.

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