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Dealing With Divorce in the Military

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Deciding to end your marriage can feel like the final step on a long journey. But in many ways, divorce is just the beginning of a transition — one you need to manage well for all concerned. If you are a service member or a military spouse seeking a divorce, it’s important to realize that military divorce has special considerations. Learn about them here.

Military lawyers and the legal side of military divorce

Understanding how the process works can help save you and your family time, expense and emotional strain. Military lawyers can help. You should know that:

  • State law and local procedures largely govern divorce. Some federal statutes and military regulations may apply, depending on where you file.
  • Free military legal assistance services are available to service members and families through the installation legal assistance office. Services can include:
    • Mediation, which allows the two parties to work with a mediator to arrive at a compromise for ending their marriage. Mediation is confidential and typically faster and less costly than going to court.
    • Separate legal assistance attorneys for the service member and the spouse
    • Advice on legal issues, including divorce and child custody, income taxes, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and wills.
  • Military lawyers — called judge advocates, or JAGs — also are available to help you and your spouse understand the legal implications of your divorce. To find a military divorce lawyer on an installation near you, visit the Installation Program Directory.

Dealing with the stress of divorce

No doubt about it, divorce is a challenging time. Even if you feel confident in your decision, take advantage of available support to help you through the process. Military OneSource offers these resources:

  • Non-medical counseling: Talking to a counselor can help reduce stress and keep you mission-ready. You can access counseling face-to-face, via online chat, by phone or by video.
  • Health and wellness coaching: Partner with a Military OneSource health and wellness coach to set goals and create a plan to take care of yourself, manage stress and make positive life changes.
  • Chill Drills by Military OneSource: Pause to refresh and recharge with simple mindfulness exercises to help you relax your mind and body. Download for free on Google Play or the App Store.
  • Financial counseling: Get on top of your budget as your financial situation may change in your divorce. Free financial counseling can help you get your finances in order to make the process easier.

You can access these support services by calling Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 or via live chat.

Helping your children deal with divorce

Even if your children aren’t showing their struggle outwardly, it’s important to recognize how this change in your family may affect them.

You can help your children adjust by supporting their feelings and using available resources. Non-medical counseling can provide the extra support they might need during this transition.

Counseling is available for children and youth through both the Military and Family Life Counseling Program and Military OneSource. Children under 18 must have written parental consent to receive MFLC services. Children ages 6-12 may receive Military OneSource non-medical counseling if a parent or caregiver is present. This is considered a family session. For youth ages 13-17, a parent or caregiver must be available at the start of each counseling session to give consent.

You may also want to share Sesame Street’s Dealing With Divorce resources with your children to start the discussion on ways to cope with the stress and changes associated with divorce or separation.

Effect of divorce on military benefits

Until the divorce is final, the non-military spouse may retain their identification card and continue to receive commissary, exchange and health care benefits. Other benefits that will be affected include:

  • Installation housing: You will typically lose installation family housing within 30 days of the service member or other family members moving out due to a divorce.
  • Moving costs: The military may pay the moving expenses of the non-military spouse returning home from an overseas duty station. The divorcing parties could negotiate the cost of an in-state move as part of the settlement.
  • Health care benefits: When you lose TRICARE benefits because of divorce, you can buy up to 36 months of temporary health care coverage through the Department of Defense Continued Health Care Benefit program.
  • Eligible children of the service member may receive TRICARE benefits up to age 21 (or age 23 if enrolled in college).
  • Spousal and child support: Each military service has policies requiring service members to support family members upon separation in the absence of an agreement or court order.
    • These policies are designed to be temporary.
    • A commander’s authority is limited without a court order.
    • You must send the court order to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service directing the government to pay monies for support or alimony.

Additional military rules and situations regarding divorce

  • The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act: A federal law that provides former, un-remarried spouses of military members with certain benefits, after a certain number of years of marriage.
  • Divorce overseas: A U.S. court may not recognize a divorce filed overseas, so it’s best to file in the United States. Learn where military divorce laws allow service members and their spouses to file for divorce.
  • Abandoned spouses: Abandonment is the act of deliberately leaving one’s spouse without consent (or notification, in many cases) with no intent of returning. If your service member spouse has left you, you are still technically married, have rights and are entitled to support. Contact the legal assistance office at your installation to find out more.

Whether you’re dealing with the legal, emotional or other aspects of divorce, Military OneSource stands ready to help. Call 800-342-9647 or connect through live chat. OCONUS/international? Find dialing options here.

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