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Military divorces: special rules and requirements

There are special rules and requirements that apply to military divorce. State and federal military laws apply to service members and their spouses, making the process different than that for civilians. Service members cannot be sued or begin divorce proceedings while on active duty under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Also, the court may exclude service members from such proceedings for 60 days after active duty.

Jurisdiction issues

For civilians, jurisdiction, or a court's authority to hear their case, is typically established according to where they live. However, jurisdiction over a service member's divorce may be established where they hold legal residence and not where they are currently stationed. Whether a service member will be able to file for divorce in the state where they reside, where they are stationed or where they claim legal residency generally depends on state law. Issues of divorce such as property distribution, child custody and child support will be decided in accordance with the state's laws in which the divorce petition was filed.

Pension and retirement benefit concerns

Like civilian benefits, military pensions may be divided upon divorce. Under state law and the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act, military benefits may be treated as sole or community property. Under the 10-Year Rule, if there were at least 10 years of marriage that overlapped with 10 years of military service, then the former spouse will be paid their share of the military retirement benefits by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. Spouses married for less than 10 years may be paid their share of the retirement benefits, as determined by the court, by their retiring spouse.

Other benefit matters

Former spouses of military personnel may also be entitled to medical, commissary and exchange privileges if they were married for 20 years or more, if the service member gave 20 years or more of creditable service and if there was a 20 year or more overlap of marriage and military service. There are also specific rules governing alimony and child support. Those seeking to get a military divorce should seek the counsel of an experienced attorney who can explain all the relevant state and military laws pertaining to their case.

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