Divorce is rarely easy. Even if you set aside all the emotional factors involved, the legal process and financial maneuvers can be complicated even in a relatively amicable divorce. But if you are going through a divorce from a spouse who is in the armed services, you will have special considerations.
What law applies?
For the most part, divorce falls under state law. If either you or your spouse meets the residency requirements for Maryland, then ordinarily your divorce is controlled by Maryland law and goes through Maryland courts. If your spouse is in the military, however, they have the option to file for divorce in Maryland, in the state where they claim legal residence, or in the state where they are currently stationed. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all issues in your divorce are handled under another state’s laws, but the choice of state could have implications for your property division, alimony, child support and child custody.
Of course, the legal picture becomes even more complicated if the servicemember chooses to file for divorce while they are stationed overseas.
Note also that servicemembers on active duty are protected under federal law from default judgment. Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, servicemembers can apply for a stay that puts a hold on any civil action against them while they are on active duty and for up to 90 days after their active duty ends. In this way, a servicemember cannot be penalized for failing to appear in court or respond to a legal notice while they are on active duty.
Many spouses rely on military benefits during their marriage, but lose them in divorce.
Those living in military housing typically must move out within 30 days of separation. If living overseas, the military may pay for the civilian spouse’s moving costs to return to the United States.
Civilian spouses also typically lose their TRICARE health care coverage, although they may purchase temporary coverage for up to three years.
Note that civilians who have been married to a servicemember for 20 years or more may be eligible for extended coverage — including medical coverage, commissary and exchange privileges — under the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act.
In many divorces, one of the most technically challenging tasks is to divide a retirement account. In military divorces, this is further complicated by the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act.
This federal law places a limit on the amount a servicemember’s pension that can be paid to a spouse.
It also provides that some spouses may receive military retirement pay, but only if the marriage lasted at least 10 years and the servicemember was in the service for at least 10 years. Otherwise, the civilian spouse may receive some share of their spouse’s pension, but only through the property division process.