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Military Divorce: Your Rights, Protections, and Special Circumstances

  • Aug 26, 2020
  • The Harr Law Firm

Upset soldier on couch holding photoWhile every divorce is entirely unique in its circumstances and legal needs, military divorces are a class all their own. They require particular knowledge of the rights and protections that military members have when it comes to divorce—knowledge that we have here at The Harr Law Firm. If you’re a service member, or you’re currently married to one, and you’re going through a divorce, it’s important that you work with a lawyer who’s experienced with military divorces. Here’s what you need to know about your rights, protections available to you, and the special circumstances surrounding your divorce as a service member.

Legal Assistance Attorneys Can’t Represent You

First, it’s important to be aware that the military does provide legal resources for service members and their spouses. You can contact the legal assistance office at your institution and receive free advice on issues relating to your divorce. While the legal assistance attorneys at these offices can be an invaluable tool in helping you navigate the early stages of divorce, if your divorce goes to court, they cannot represent you.

A legal assistance attorney is only able to advise you and work with you on divorce proceedings outside of a courtroom. So, if you feel that your divorce will require you to go to court before you’re able to reach an agreement, it’s best to work with an attorney that can represent you in court from the very beginning. This allows us to be familiar with all facets of your case from the start, rather than trying to jump into the middle of divorce negotiations when you’ve decided to take the matter to court.

Additionally, legal assistance attorneys aren’t able to draft specific court documents for you. This leaves you with the responsibility of handling all of the paperwork related to your divorce, though they may be able to advise you on filling them out to ensure it’s all filed correctly. But if you want someone who can be more hands-on in helping you through your divorce, you need to work with a civilian attorney.

You Have Protections under the SCRA

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, or SCRA, protects the legal rights of service members currently on active duty. For example, in a civilian divorce, you’re expected to respond within a certain time period after being served with divorce papers. However, the SCRA protects you against default judgments for failure to respond or to appear at trial as a result of being on active duty; it can also provide a postponement of proceedings if you are unable to attend because of your military service.

Filing While Living Overseas

Filing for divorce when you’re stationed in another country can get extremely complicated, because U.S. courts won’t always recognize a foreign divorce as legal. Because of this, it’s best to file for divorce in the United States. You have three options available to you when choosing which state to file for divorce in:

  • The state where the service member is currently stationed
  • The state where the service member has legal residency
  • The state where the non-military spouse lives

If you own property outside of the country, it’s especially important to have an experienced attorney on your side. Division of overseas assets can be extremely complicated, and as already mentioned, military legal assistance attorneys can’t represent you in court on these matters.

If you are a civilian living with a military spouse overseas, and you file for divorce, the U.S. government will often pay to have you (and any children that you may get custody of) moved back home before the military member’s tour of duty is finished.

Protections for Ex-Spouses of Military Members

The military service member is not the only one who has certain protections during and after divorce. The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act allows former military spouses who have not remarried to receive medical, commissary, and other benefits, so long as they meet what is known as the 20/20/20 rule:

  1. The military member has had at least 20 years of service creditable in determining eligibility for retirement pay.
  2. The couple was married for at least 20 years before they divorced.
  3. The couple was married during at least 20 years of the member’s eligible service.

If you meet these requirements, make sure that you receive the protections and benefits that you deserve.

Experienced Military Divorce Lawyers

At Harr Law, we’re experienced in handling the unique circumstances that surround military divorces. We’ll ensure that your rights are upheld and that you receive the protections you deserve as a service member or spouse. Give us a call today to schedule your consultation with one of our experienced military divorce lawyers.