Palmer Rodak & Associates
Palmer Rodak & Associates
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The basics about military divorce

Life in the military is unique. It is transient, you rarely own your home and deployment keeps families apart for long periods. Military life is different from civilian life. When a marriage dissolves those aspects come to the forefront.

Ultimately, the legal process is no different for a military family in divorce than for a civilian family, just with different factors that weigh into the equation. For those seeking to divorce a service member, here are the key elements to consider.

Serving papers

The first step of a divorce is serving papers to your soon to be ex. The papers must be served in person, which makes divorcing a deployed spouse extremely challenging. However, military families have an extended timeline to work with.

Child custody

Custody battles take place in the courtroom, typically under the decision of a child's best interests. In families where one parent is in the military and the other stays home or works elsewhere, the advantage is to the caretaking parent. Frequent moving from base to base and deployment are challenging settings to raise a child and many courts have made note of this.

Division of property

Because of the nature of the job, military families may live in post housing instead of purchasing their own real estate. While this means you won't fight about the house, it also means the non-military partner will be out of a home. Alimony calculations may consider this factor.

Retirement and pension

One difference in a military divorce is that a retirement plan is marital property instead of monetary. In civilian divorce, similar funds are divided equally based on income during the marriage. In a military divorce, the equation is more complicated with three key pieces that effect the distribution:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The length of time in the military that overlaps with the marriage
  • Future remarriage

The most significant factor is how long the two of you were married while also being in the service. This is determined during divorce settlements and can include specific timelines for distribution (related to your ages) and may also include health insurance coverage.

Alimony and child support

Active duty military members skew younger, with families and children to support. This means a partner may have skipped college or been underemployed due to frequent moves. In other scenarios, it a partner skipped a career in favor of childcare, it will be recognized in the settlement.

It's common for military divorces to include measurable alimony that helps pay bills, transportation costs and education for the ex-partner. The length of alimony payment is dependent on the length of marriage, child and education situation, and other unique circumstances. Remarriage will often trigger an end to alimony payments though child support would continue.

More formulas, less trade

Military life is trying because of the frequent moves and personal sacrifice that comes the work. While those sacrifices are often for good cause -- your children, for example -- it takes a toll that is measured when the decision is for a divorce.

Civilian divorce is often a negotiation session, trading a retirement account for a house, for example. Military divorce tends toward more formulas and timelines for division of assets.

Moving on from a broken marriage is a difficult and stressful time. Divorce offers a new start, but in the rush to get a new stable life there needs to be acknowledgement of what you've given up to try and make it work.

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Palmer Rodak & Associates
Certified Family Law Specialists State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization

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