Divorce resources for military spouses

Divorce resources for military spouses

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Okinawa

Trying to keep a marriage afloat takes a lot of hard work and effort. However, there are times when no matter how hard a couple tries, the only viable option for the relationship is to end it. To say divorce is complicated would be an understatement. It can be even more daunting as a military spouse, as many unique circumstances apply as the process moves forward. It can also be overwhelming to figure out where to go for assistance and what happens when the proceedings begin. Here are a few things to consider, as well as resources available to you as a spouse.

The Legal Office

The legal office can help to an extent. Many military spouses assume that the local legal office at your installation will handle everything. This is a common misconception. While legal assistance attorneys are available to offer advice, guidance and some planning, they will not represent you or the active-duty member in court proceedings. Furthermore, if your spouse seeks out assistance from an attorney, you will not be able to use the same attorney due to a conflict of interest, making things difficult if you are at a small base. Issues of child custody, spousal or child support, and division of assets will be handled by civilian attorneys.

Federal protections

There are federal protections in place for both the servicemember and the spouse. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) grants certain protections to active-duty members if they cannot attend court hearings in person due to duty requirements. It also may allow for a temporary stay of proceedings for the same reasoning. The SCRA can help shield military members from default judgments in civil proceedings if they cannot be present.

The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA) is a little more complicated. This act is designed to assist with the allotment and division of retirement pay and other benefits. Two primary rules apply to the USFSPA: the 20/20/20 and 20/20/15 rules. If you were married at least 20 years before the divorce, the servicemember has reached 20 years of service and is eligible for retirement pay, and the marriage spanned 20 years of service, spouses can retain medical, commissary, base exchange and various MWR privileges.

The 20/20/15 rule is similar. If you were married 20 years, your active-duty spouse has 20 years of service, and the marriage overlapped 15 years of service, then you are eligible for one year of TRICARE medical coverage. However, this does not apply to keeping your ID or other base privileges. Both rules apply to un-remarried spouses. Should you choose to remarry, you will lose these benefits. The USFSPA also allows for military retirement pay to be classified as marital property. Depending on the judgment, spouses may be awarded up to 50% of the active-duty member’s retirement pay.

Early return of dependents

Being stationed overseas and filing for divorce can often pose a difficult physical challenge. In certain situations, it may be necessary for the military spouse and any dependents to return to the States before the servicemember’s overseas assignment is finished. Unit commanders have the authority to allow for an Early Return of Dependents (ERD). This allows for dependents to return home government-funded and basically on their own set of orders.

Things to consider

  • During the initial separation period, military spouses can keep their dependent IDs, benefits and base privileges. However, unless the abovementioned rules apply to their situation, they will lose them when the divorce is finalized.
  • If you reside in base housing, you will only have 30 days to find alternative housing once the servicemember chooses to move out.
  • When filing for dissolution of marriage, military spouses can file in a state where either spouse has legal residence. Divorce proceedings and judgments are handled at the state level.
  • If you’re concerned about losing health benefits, TRICARE offers the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP). This allows military spouses to purchase coverage for up to 36 months after the finalized date of divorce.

If you feel you’ve hit stumbling blocks while navigating your way through the process, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Talk with representatives at your nearest legal office, chaplains and the first sergeant of your associated unit if you feel comfortable doing so. Military OneSource is another excellent place to find resources and assistance.

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