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Managing the Divorce Process

The information contained on this website is designed to educate and inform service members and their families on their personal legal affairs. Nothing contained on the website is a substitute for the legal advice of a licensed attorney. Service members and their families seeking legal advice should consult the staff at the nearest installation Legal Assistance Office.

Just about any way you look at it, divorce can be challenging. There are emotional issues and confusing legal matters that need to be dealt with. But as a service member, you can ease some of the stress, time and cost of a divorce by understanding what you need to consider as you go through the legal process.

A good first step is to contact your Legal Assistance Office. There, you have access to free legal help whether you live in the U.S. or overseas.

How your Legal Assistance Office can help

State law and local procedures govern divorce, but depending on where you file, there are certain federal statutes and military regulations that may apply to yours. Attorneys at an installation Legal Assistance Office can provide free information and advice to service members on issues such as:

  • Divorce and child custody
  • Income tax considerations
  • Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
  • Wills

Eligible family members may also receive free legal advice. To avoid any conflicts of interest, however, an attorney can only offer guidance to either the service member or the spouse. Depending on the service branch, the other spouse can see another attorney in the same location or at a different site.

It’s important to note that while legal assistance attorneys can offer information and advice, they cannot represent their clients in court.

Your rights as a service member

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act helps protect the legal rights of service members when they are on active duty. Typically, when one spouse serves divorce papers on the other, the latter must respond within a certain time period. Under the SCRA, however:

  • Civil court or administrative proceedings may be extended if the service member shows they are unable to attend for duty reasons.
  • Service members may be protected in certain situations from default judgments for a failure to respond to a lawsuit or appear at trial.

Military legal assistance attorneys can help you understand the implications of your divorce, and your communication with them is private. They can also refer you to nongovernment civilian lawyer referral services. To find a free military legal assistance attorney on an installation near you, visit the Legal Services Locator.

Your rights as a divorced military spouse

For divorce or legal separation situations that require representation in civil court or involve contested issues such as child custody, spousal/child support or division of assets, you’ll want to consult with a civilian attorney.

The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act is a federal law that provides certain benefits to former spouses of military service members. Former spouses who do not remarry may receive medical, commissary, exchange and movie theater privileges under the Morale, Welfare and Recreation program, along with other benefits, if they meet the requirements of what is known as the 20/20/20 rule:

  • The former spouse was married to the military member for at least 20 years at the time of the divorce, dissolution or annulment.
  • The military member has performed at least 20 years of service that is creditable in determining eligibility for retired pay (the member does not have to be retired from active duty).
  • The former spouse was married to the member during at least 20 years of the member’s retirement-creditable service.

What to know about divorce overseas

A divorce decree filed overseas can be complicated, as courts in the United States may not recognize it. So, it’s usually best to file in the United States.

Laws allow service members and their spouses to file for divorce in either the state where the service member is currently stationed, the state where they claim legal residency or the state in which the nonmilitary spouse resides.

Some things to keep in mind when filing for divorce while living overseas include:

  • Talking with a civilian attorney or someone at a military Legal Assistance Office if you own property overseas
  • Bringing home family members and their property at government’s expense before the service member’s tour of duty ends

Free financial and tax filing resources during the divorce process

Divorce can cause stress over money matters, so it’s a good idea to connect with a Military OneSource financial consultant for ways to keep your finances on track.

You can also check with a Military OneSource MilTax consultant free of charge to see how divorce may affect your taxes. Call 800-342-9647 or start a live chat to schedule an appointment. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options.

The information contained on this website is designed to educate and inform service members and their families on their personal legal affairs. Nothing contained on the website is a substitute for the legal advice of a licensed attorney. Service members and their families seeking legal advice should consult the staff at the nearest installation Legal Assistance Office.

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