We need a divorce — but my spouse is deployed. Now what?

Eric Leckie 10/05/2020

hands divore lawyer

Military life, and particularly deployments, can be stressful for families. Sometimes, the path a family chooses points to divorce — but what does that mean when one or both parties are overseas?

The road can be complicated, but here are a few guidelines to make such a divorce more straightforward.

File for divorce in the United States.

If you were married in the United States, it’s best to pursue a divorce in U.S. courts. Otherwise, your divorce may not be recognized — and trying to pursue divorce in a foreign court can get sticky. U.S. law lets service members and their spouses file for divorce in one of three places: the state where the service member is stationed, the state of legal residency for the service member, or the state where the spouse lives. However, you may want to speak with a lawyer before you choose where to file — differing state divorce laws may affect things like division of military pensions.

Get help from attorneys.

While people often rely on attorneys to guide them through the legal and financial aspects of divorce, that expertise becomes particularly important when addressing military benefits or overseas property. Maybe your family bought a house, made an investment or purchased other large items during a deployment. The military legal assistance office at your installation can provide some help, but often a civilian attorney also will be necessary. Legal assistance attorneys don’t represent clients in court or draft certain court documents; also, each spouse will need a separate attorney to avoid any conflicts of interest.

Know your protections when deployed.

Courts typically set timelines for responses from the parties involved in a divorce or sometimes even requirements to appear in court. However, meeting those can be difficult — or impossible — if you are on active duty overseas. Fortunately, the law provides protections here. Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), a judge must appoint a lawyer to represent you if you face a civil or administrative proceeding while gone for active-duty service. The court also must pause proceedings for at least 90 days — sometimes longer — if your presence is needed but you can’t get back right away.

Understand your military benefits.

In addition to providing free advice through a military financial consultant and the installation legal assistance office, the military will foot the bill for bringing family members and property home during the service member’s tour of duty, according to Military OneSource. This can be helpful if the entire family was overseas and wishes to return home as part of the divorce. Also, the ex-spouses of military members still can get medical, commissary, exchange and theater benefits if they were married to the service members during at least 20 years of service that counted toward retirement pay.

Given the complexities of divorce and military law, seek out a lawyer who specializes in both. Someone with the right expertise can make all the difference in advocating for you. Invictus Law lawyers offer that powerful combination. Please contact us online or at (757) 337-3737; we offer free consultations. We are happy to provide appointments via phone or video chat to comply with social distancing recommendations.

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