Close
My Military
OneSource App
Soldier waits in legal office

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 in the website is a substitute for the competent legal advice of a licensed attorney. Service members and their families seeking legal advice should consult the staff of the nearest installation Legal Assistance Office.

Just about any way you look at it, divorce stinks. There are emotional and confusing legal issues that need to be dealt with. But you can ease the time, costs and heartache 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 to get a better understanding of your situation. You have access to free legal assistance whether you live in the U.S. or overseas.

How military legal assistance offices can help with a military divorce

State law and local procedures govern divorce, but there are certain federal statutes and military regulations that may apply to yours, depending on where you file. Your installation’s legal assistance office can provide the following free services:

  • Legal assistance attorneys
  • Advice on legal issues such as divorce and child custody, income taxes and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

Service members and their eligible family members also have access to free legal advice through installation legal assistance offices. However, a specific legal assistance attorney can only offer guidance to the service member or the spouse, not both, to avoid any potential conflict of interest. Depending on the service branch, the other married individual can see another attorney in the same or different location. Legal assistance attorneys do not represent clients in court.

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

  • A postponement of a civil court or administrative proceeding is extended if the service member proves he or she is unable to attend because of duty; or
  • Certain protections on default judgments for failure to respond to a lawsuit or failure to appear at trial are granted.

Military legal assistance attorneys are available to help you understand the implications of your divorce. A military attorney cannot represent you or your spouse in a family law court but can refer you to a nongovernment civilian lawyer. To find a free military legal assistance attorney on an installation near you, visit the Legal Services Locator.

Generally, the military views divorce as a private civil matter to be addressed by a civilian court. However, military spouses have access to free military legal assistance services through installation legal assistance offices. In a divorce, a service member and dependent spouse will need separate attorneys to advise them to ensure both parties receive independent and confidential advice, and to avoid any conflicts of interest.

Communications between a client and a legal assistance attorney are private and confidential. While military legal assistance attorneys may not be able to draft specific court documents or represent members or their families in court, they can provide helpful advice on a range of legal issues including divorce and child custody, income taxes and wills.

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 such as retirement pay, you’ll want to consult with a civilian attorney. Military legal assistance offices can help with this.

The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act is a federal law that provides certain benefits to former spouses of military members. An unmarried former spouse may receive medical, commissary, exchange and theater privileges under the Morale, Welfare and Recreation program and other benefits if he or she meets 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.

A divorce filed overseas can be complicated, as U.S. courts may not recognize a foreign divorce. It’s usually best to file in the United States. Divorce 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 the service member claims legal residency or the state in which the nonmilitary spouse resides. Some things to consider when filing for divorce while living overseas include:

  • Talk with a civilian attorney or the military legal assistance office if you own property overseas, such as a house.
  • Family members and their property may be brought home at government expense before the service member’s tour of duty ends.

Free financial and tax filing resources during the divorce process

If you or your spouse are considering divorce, a good first step is contacting your legal assistance office to better understand your situation.

Divorce can cause financial stress, 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 talk to a Military OneSource MilTax consultant for free to see how divorce may affect your taxes. Call 800-342-9647 or start a live chat to schedule an appointment with a Military OneSource consultant. 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 in the website is a substitute for the competent legal advice of a licensed attorney. Service members and their families seeking legal advice should consult the staff of the nearest installation Legal Assistance Office.

Installation Program Directory

Find programs and services at your local installation.