Going through a divorce is tough and confusing for anyone, military or civilian. But when a military couple decides to get separated or divorced, there are rules that come into play that are not applicable in the civilian world.
Military members and their spouses may decide to separate for one reason or another. In the case of separation, the non-military spouse retains spousal benefits while separated. Many service branches have regulations that require the enlisted spouse to provide support at a rate that is different than what a state court would order—these regulations cease once a state court has entered an order for support.
Once the divorce is finalized, the benefits that the non-military spouse is entitled to will be regulated by Federal law—an example is the 20/20/20 rule.
As a general rule of thumb, the military will not be involved in domestic issues, and decisions such as division of property, child custody, and spousal and child support will be decided in the state Court. Despite this “hands-off” approach, the military will not stand for its members conducting themselves in a way that reflects badly on the military branch of affiliation. As a result, the military denies its members the ability to dodge financial obligations to their family once they are separated by dictating the amount the service member must pay their ex-spouse.
A spouse may retain their identification card and continue to receive health care benefits, exchange, and commissary until the divorce is finalized. When the couple divorces, the effects mainly fall on the following areas:
Military housing is meant for military members. When the military member moves out of the military residence, the ex-spouse and family members must also vacate the home within 30 days of that date.
The military does not pay for the family member’s relocation fees as a move is considered a move to accommodate a military member’s personal problems. As an ex-military spouse, you may be entitled to a portion of your military member’s housing allowance, during the separation period, especially if you were abandoned by your military spouse.
As long as you are married, you are entitled to medical benefits through the military spouse. If you were not married long enough, you will lose TRICARE due to the divorce. At that point, you can buy up to 36 months of temporary health care coverage through the Department of Defense Continued Health Care Benefit program. Eligible biological and adopted children of the military member may receive TRICARE benefits up to age 21 or age 23 if they are enrolled in college.
During a legal separation, the nonmilitary spouse retains his or her ID card and, therefore, they retain the same full benefits during the separation period they had during the marriage. The ID must be surrendered and is no longer valid when the divorce is finalized. If you were married long enough, you will be eligible to receive an updated identification card to continue to utilize military privileges.
Each branch of the military has its own regulations regarding service members providing support to his or her family members upon separation in the absence of an agreement or court order. A commanding officer may enforce child and spousal support guidelines even if there is no court order and the military member may be punished for failing to pay family support. However, there are exceptions to this rule: If the nonmilitary member earns a higher salary than the military member or if the military member was a victim of domestic abuse. Further, once a court order is entered regarding support, that amount will be used over the regulation.
Military divorce and separation can create complex issues because they are governed by a combination of military regulations, state law, and Federal statutes. Military regulations and Federal statutes determine the division and/or distribution of military pay and benefits including retirement and health.
On the other hand, the laws of the state in which the divorce is filed govern how the divorce proceeds and how most of the divorce-related issues including child custody, visitation, and support, alimony/spousal support, and division of property and debts are determined.
While many of the laws applied to a military divorce remain the same as a civilian divorce, there are some distinct differences that become complicated. You must hire a divorce attorney that has extensive experience with military-related family law as that will benefit you ten-fold in your divorce.
While military personnel and their family members have access to free legal services through the Judge’s Advocate General’s Corps, the JAG are not typically familiar with state divorce laws and will refer you to hire a local attorney.
Our family law attorneys know the regulations and laws inside and out and we will be able to protect your rights while you are going through the divorce process. If you, or someone you know, are going through divorce, Melone Hatley, PC will expertly guide you through this process to protect your family, your finances, and your career.