Military Divorce Basics

by McConnell Family Law

Here at the McConnell Family Law Group, we are proud of our military heritage. Our experienced Connecticut military divorce attorneys offer 10% discounted rates for military members and their families. We can provide additional insight regarding crucial factors in your divorce such as the 20/20/20 rule or how your military benefits would be handled during your divorce. For more information about the services we offer for military families and their legal needs, contact us today at (203) 541-5520 or fill out our online form.

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 the New London Naval Submarine Base 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 which 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 involve 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.

Military Divorce Facts Details
Jurisdictional Requirements Court authority is based on the service member’s residence. Factors like children and spouse’s consent affect jurisdiction.
Protection from “Default” Active service members can pause divorce proceedings during deployment. Default judgments cannot be entered against an active-duty service member serving out-of-state.
Dividing Military Retirement Benefits State property division laws apply to military divorces. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act determines the ex-spouse’s entitlement to retirement benefits. Direct payment is dependent on the duration of marriage and military service.
Service of Process Personal service of divorce paperwork to the active member is necessary, although waivers can be signed and filed in certain cases.
Military Benefits If married for at least 20 years and the periods overlap, the spouse is entitled to similar military benefits, including medical, commissary, and exchange privileges, as long as they 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 are Marine Corps veterans.

To learn more about military divorces or to schedule an appointment, contact us today at (203) 541-5520.

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