The military lifestyle makes a divorce involving a service member different from a divorce involving only civilians because, while the legal issues are technically the same, the situations tend to be very different. This is especially the case when minor children are involved.
Here are some facts about active duty service members that make their cases different:
- Service Members are not from here, so, even if their service time ends here, they will often relocate back to their Home of Record. This is an issue because of child custody and visitation which heavily depend on the physical location of the parties to the marriage. This also ties into the next issue;
- Service Members are subject to deployment as needed by the United States. Different laws apply to protect service members when they are suing or being sued that often must be brought to the attention of the Court. A deployment obviously impacts custody and visitation since the other parent is the default backup for the deploying parent. A plan approved by the Court may be necessary to protect the children of the parties from an unfit parent or an unsuitable living arrangement. It is very important to think about these issues in advance;
- Service Members moving a lot often means that the marital estate (property) of the parties has a somewhat different character. It will be more often tied up in financial instruments (mutual funds and retirement accounts) and less often in real estate, vehicles, and other tangible property. The be-ready-to-go lifestyle does not lend itself to the accumulation of tangibles. There are service members and veterans that have collected an unwieldy portfolio of real estate scattered around the country which has to be divided in a divorce and sometimes specialized requirements to settle the distribution of such properties;
- Retirement and Benefits. The non-serving marital partner (if any) can be entitled to health benefits depending on the length and circumstances of the parties' marriage. A careful analysis is needed to ensure that entitlements are not lost in the divorce due to being overlooked. Additionally it is a myth that a military retirement cannot always be divided. It can, however, the mechanisms available for doing so will vary depending on the length of the marriage and the time in service. It may be worthwhile to forgo a share of a retirement in exchange for a large share of other marital property. This depends on the circumstances and requires good advice and judgment to ensure equitable results from the division.
Active duty service members and their spouses have genuinely unique issues when their marriages are dissolved. Seek competent counsel to ensure that your rights are protected and the result of your divorce is fair.