Nuances of Military Divorce
Having a spouse in the military means constant change and frequent moves to new places. This dynamic, along with the stresses of deployment, can make it difficult to keep a marriage happy and healthy. If divorce does come, though, the laws that apply differ, bringing both flexibility and complexity into the equation. These complications primarily arise because of the interplay between state and military law, a situation that does not occur in a civilian divorce, and proceeding without detailed knowledge of the differences can result in the non-military spouses losing important rights and potential advantages. Two areas that are particularly important to keep in mind are where to file the divorce petition, and the ability of a civilian spouse to keep military benefits post-divorce. A discussion of why these two issues matter, and how they influence the outcome of a divorce case, will follow below.
Where to File
Typically, where a divorce will be filed is pretty straightforward – the state in which a petitioning spouse is resident – which is usually the place where the couple last lived together, if not got married. However, with military spouses, frequent moves upend this rule, and the place in which the divorce petition is filed become pivotally important. Here are common conundrums a divorcing military servicemember will encounter:
- Official residents of one state;
- Married in a second state;
- Living in a third state and
- Owning property in a fourth.
Thus, the footprint of a military servicemember is often spread out, and spouses need to determine which state would offer the best forum to dissolve the marriage. Note that unlike civilian divorces, divorces involving active military generally have more choices over where to get divorced. Florida, like many states, has a jurisdictional exception for active military, and allows those stationed in the state to access its courts for divorce. In addition, military spouses can file in the state where either spouse:
- is a permanent resident;
- owns property; or
- last lived as a married couple.
Checking the divorce laws of potential states is the best way to determine which one may be best, a determination that is better made by an experienced divorce attorney who understands both the procedural and substantive consequences of a particular choice.
Another key concern for the civilian spouse and the couple’s children is the ability to retain military benefits after the divorce is granted. Military benefits are among the best in the country, and part of the reason many individuals choose to enlist. Dividing retirement benefits are frequently an issue in divorce, and for military pensions, these funds are subject to division in divorce as marital property, but it is up to the provisions of state law to determine how pensions are divided, not military regulation.
Health coverage is the other big issue in this category of concerns, and children of military servicemembers can retain full benefits until age 22 or marriage. Former spouses can keep health benefits under the following conditions:
- they were married at least 20 years;
- the military spouse has at least 20 years of service;
- the marriage and service overlapped by at least 20 years;
- the civilian spouse has not remarried; and
- the civilian spouse did not enroll in an employer-sponsored health plan.
Marriages of 15 to 20 years are only eligible for one year of coverage, and remarriage automatically terminates benefits for both groups, though only until age 55 for spouses married 20 or more years. For spouses who do not qualify for standard benefits, a temporary premium-based program is available for 36 months. Note that in civilian divorces, benefits are terminated right away, with no option to remain on the plan, unless ordered by a court.
Get Legal Advice
Divorce brings up a lot of complicated issues that must be settled, and having one spouse in the military tends to increase this complexity. The attorneys at the All Family Law Group, P.A. have extensive experience with divorce involving military spouses, and will use this knowledge to obtain the best possible outcome. Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay for a consultation at no charge. They can be reached at 813-672-1900.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+