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Special Issues in Military Divorces

During military operations such as Enduring Freedom and Desert Storm, the United States Armed Services have fought to protect the interests of the nation. While service members offer their lives as a sacrifice to their country, there are other sacrifices that might not be so evident and that relate to a soldier's family.

In 2009, more than 27,000 divorces occurred in which at least one spouse was an active member of the Army, Air Force, Navy or Marine Corps. While this number represents a leveling in military divorce rates, the issue of military divorce presents unique issues.

Concerns of Service Members Facing Marriage Dissolution

During a divorce , couples struggle with basic separation, legal and financial matters. For a military man or woman, the issues might be complicated by more than emotions and distance. Special rules and laws apply to those in the military.


For soldiers, jurisdiction can exist in three places: the legal residence of the husband, legal residence of the wife or the soldier's duty station state. Consistent with protections outlined in the Soldier's and Sailor's Civil Relief Act (SSCRA), any family law action filed against a soldier must be in a state that has proper jurisdiction over him or her.


State courts have also long accepted that military retirement pay is considered marital property and subject to equitable distribution. Under the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA), any military spouse is granted a percentage of the service member's retirement pay, based on the months of marriage and the member's creditable service time.


Whether amicable or not, divorce also severs a former military spouse's access to benefits. Divorced spouses are precluded from continued health and dental care services, base-related services; and, at times, base access.


Child custody , support and visitation are important issues in any divorce. All parents have the right to rear their children. However, courts consider many factors in determining the emotional, social and financial obligations of parents. Distance and estrangement can be a problem for a military member stationed far away. Courts now recognize this problem and work to foster healthy parent-child relationships through technology, including e-mail, instant messaging, and web chats considering virtual visitation, as well as traditional visitation schedules.

When dealing with a military divorce, knowledge is more than half the battle. Working with a competent military divorce lawyer can be crucial in preventing heartache and headache in the long run.

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