Armed Forces Divisions

5 Things to Know About Military Divorces

Here at the McConnell Family Law Group, we are proud of our military heritage and we offer 25% discounted rates for military members and their families.  

One misconception is that military divorces occur in military courts, which is not true. Like all divorces, military service members get divorced in civilian state courts. More on that below. Military divorces are different from traditional divorces in several respects. Perhaps the most significant differences are based on the rules and regulations that apply to these proceedings and the unique benefits that members of the military receive. Getting everything just right can be tricky without help from an experienced military divorce attorney.

Below are just a few facts about military divorces that you need to know if you are active-duty military personnel - or you are married to someone who is or was in the military.

1.  Jurisdictional Requirements

In every divorce proceeding, the court must have jurisdiction to proceed with the divorce. Usually, court authority is appropriate wherever the person is living. However, in military divorces, jurisdiction is more complicated. Generally, court authority extends to where the service member is stationed or where they hold legal residence. Usually, a service member’s legal residence is where the military member is from originally, but not always. By way of example, a navy sailor that is presently stationed at New London Navy Subase in Groton, Connecticut, but is from California, could conceivably get divorced in either Connecticut or California. Several factors go into this decision including whether there are children, as well as whether the opposing spouse consents to jurisdiction in a state that does not have jurisdiction over him/her. Yes, it is complicated, and details matter.

2.  Protection from “Default”

In Connecticut, active service members can “pause” divorce proceedings (called a stay), under certain circumstances when they are deployed. However, the active-duty member can also waive their right to stop the proceedings while they are deployed on active duty if they so choose.

In a typical civilian divorce proceeding by comparison, if the other spouse does not respond to your petition, then they are considered in “default.” Default generally means that they are not resisting the divorce and the petitioning party will get most, if not all, of what they have requested regarding property division, child custody, and related issues. A default judgment cannot be entered against a service member that is serving on active-duty out-of-state absent special circumstances.

3.  Dividing Military Retirement Benefits

State property division laws still apply to military divorces. However, federal law also gives military members special rights when it comes to their retirement benefits from the United States. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act will dictate how much of that account a former spouse can receive. In particular, spouses will not receive direct payment from the military unless they have been married for at least ten years that overlapped with military service. If a spouse is awarded a part of a military pension and they were married less than ten years they would have to rely on their former spouse to remit payment. This can still be backed up with a court order, but direct payment is obviously preferable if possible.

4.  Service of Process

You must still personally serve an active member of the military with the paperwork for the divorce. This can be tricky for those who are stationed overseas. However, the military member may also sign and file a waiver stating that he or she does not require personal service for the divorce. These waivers are common in uncontested divorces and even in divorces that involved a fair amount of negotiation.

5.  Military Benefits

If you have been married to a military member for at least 20 years, and your spouse has been in the military for at least 20 years, and the two periods overlap for at least 20 years, then you, as their spouse, are entitled to most of the same benefits as your spouse. These include things like medical benefits, as well as commissary and exchange privileges. These benefits will apply as long as you remain unmarried.

Getting Help with a Military Divorce

You should not assume that even experienced family law attorneys will be able to walk you through your divorce involving military-related issues. You need an attorney who has experience with this unique type of divorce. McConnell Family Law Group has over 50 years of combined experience handling military divorces. In fact, two of our attorneys and one of our paralegals are former members of the military.

To learn more about military divorces or to schedule an appointment contact us today by calling one of our offices located in Hartford (860) 266-1166, New Canaan (203) 344-7007, or by visiting  We also have offices in New Haven, Stamford, and Niantic by appointment only.  Find Peace Through Strength!

Attorney Paul McConnell

Attorney Paul McConnell

Connecticut Divorce Mediator and Family Law Attorney Paul McConnell is a former Judge, Marine Corps infantry officer, and federal prosecutor with extensive grand jury, trial, and appellate experience. Paul was educated in mediation and jurisprudence by the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada, and by the Connecticut Council for Non-adversarial Divorce (CCND). "I first started out doing family law for Military Divorces at Camp Lejeune, NC. "

Attorney Matthew Crockett

Attorney Paul McConnell

Matt is an instructor at the Naval Justice School in Newport, RI for new Marine Corps and Navy JAGS. Connecticut Divorce and Family Law attorney Attorney Matthew A. Crockett is a former Judge and former state prosecutor with extensive trial experience.  Matthew is a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and a veteran of the Iraq war.

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