Please note: This article is not professional legal advice and is meant for entertainment purposes only. Consult a practicing lawyer in your area for information on your particular situation.
When you get married, divorce is likely not on your radar. However, for some military couples, divorce eventually does become a reality.
While the majority of military marriages do thrive, it is important to understand your rights as a military spouse should divorce occur. Divorce is difficult and painful no matter the circumstances, but for military couples there are other factors at play that could cause additional complications.
Finding Legal Advice
Both the service member and the spouse may seek advice from civilian attorneys, according to MilitaryOneSource. However, using the on-base legal services could also be an option. These services are free and often help individuals better understand the divorce process.
There is a catch: a military-affiliated attorney can only represent one party in the divorce. If there is only one lawyer at your location, that means it is first come, first served. If divorce is on your radar, it could be a good move to head to the JAG or SJA office ASAP to secure your representation.
Military lawyers also cannot represent clients in civilian legal proceedings. This means that while base legal services can help get the process started, you will likely need to retain a civilian attorney to complete the divorce proceedings.
Military Spouse Benefits After Divorce
Under a very specific set of circumstances, divorced former spouses of military personnel can claim some benefits. This is called the 20/20/20 rule.
- You were married to the service member for at least 20 years
- The service member has performed at least 20 years of active military service
- You were married to the service member for at least 20 years of that active military service
If these three statements apply to you, then you may be able to retain your rights to the commissary, PX, medical and other on-base services, like the theater or gym. However, should you remarry, you will also forfeit these benefits.
If you do not meet all three criteria you do not qualify for any military benefits following divorce.
Military Divorce When Stationed Overseas
US courts do not recognize foreign divorce proceedings, which means that you and your current spouse will need to travel back to complete the divorce.
Before beginning divorce proceedings while OCONUS, consult with the base legal office if possible to determine next steps.
Family members and their belongings can be returned to the US prior to the service member in certain circumstances. Typically, if this happens due to a separation or beginning a divorce, the service member may be required to return to base quarters. Contact your local housing office to determine the policies and what to do next.
Finalizing the divorce can occur in your US state, the home state of the service member or at the service member’s next US duty station.
Civilian Legal Proceedings with a Military Twist
Generally, divorce is a civilian legal proceeding. Meaning, everything happens in a regular court with non-military lawyers representing both sides.
However, due to the unique nature of military life your divorce settlement might include some different items.
- Custody agreements: when one parent is moving due to military orders or deploying, that should be factored into any custody agreements; this may mean that your custody agreement may not be the 50/50 split or weekends-and-holidays arrangements that are familiar
- Military retirement: if your soon-to-be former spouse has been putting into TSP or may have earned military retirement after 20-plus years of service; according to the American Bar Association, these assets less certain deductions are able to be divided, typically after 10 years of marriage that overlaps with at least 10 years of active military service
Lawyers, and those working through a divorce with military complications, should reference Silent Partner, a lawyer-to-lawyer resource.
Things Every Military Spouse Should Know About Divorce
There are a lot of myths surrounding divorce in the military. And some service members, particularly those who are already abusive, may try to put additional strain on spouses seeking divorce.
During a separation, you do not lose your military ID and benefits even if you do not qualify under the 20/20/20 rule. You are still entitled to receive support from your spouse. This means that your service member cannot take away your dependent ID. They must provide you support via BAH or OHA for housing, even if you are no longer living together. Each military service provides guidance regarding the exact division of monetary support required. You can find links to these documents at the National Military Family Association’s website.
Should your service member refuse to provide this monetary support to you and/or your shared minor children, you should contact their commanding officer. The military unit should handle the dispute and provide resolution options.
Before You Get to Divorce
While there are lots of resources to support military couples seeking divorce, there are also options to help rebuild a relationship prior to ending things for good.
MilitaryOneSource and Military Family Life Counseling (MFLC) both offer confidential counseling services to couples. MilitaryOneSource provides up to 12 free counseling sessions, either in person or via telehealth. To begin seeing a counselor, contact MilitaryOneSource at 800-342-9647. MFLC services can be ongoing, beyond 12 sessions. Each base has at least one MFLC. Contact your local MFLC office to initiate services.
MilitaryOneSource also offers online marriage strengthening resources as well. These courses and tools are available around the clock and on your schedule.
Many installations offer marriage counseling and retreats through military chaplains. These can range from single-day sessions that focus on a small aspect to weekend long adventures at hotels or retreat properties. Retreats and counseling via the chaplains will be faith-based.
Operation We Are Here has also compiled a giant list of marriage retreats and opportunities. Many are faith-based, but there are many that are not religiously affiliated.
Prior to seeking counseling services or booking a marriage retreat, it’s important to communicate with your spouse about these programs and your intentions.
However, even if your spouse is not on the same page and does not agree to counseling or a retreat, you can still seek support on your own. Many counselors will work with one spouse instead of both. Sometimes, seeking counseling on your own can help to get your relationship back on track.
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Meg Flanagan is a teacher, blogger and military spouse. She owns Meg Flanagan Education Solutions, an education advocacy service dedicated to serving families on the K-12 journey. You can find Meg on Facebook. Meg is also available as a freelance writer and personal education advocate!