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Is divorce for active duty military different than civilian?

Divorce is difficult no matter what stage in life you are. For some, divorce occurs when you are on active-duty military assignment.

While divorce in the military is much the same as with civilians, there are a few differences.

Some of the differences

Perhaps the biggest difference is that under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a member of the military can apply for a temporary halt to any civil action – such as a divorce – while they are on active duty or within 90 days after release from active duty.

The reason behind this is simple: The U.S. wants active servicemembers to concentrate on defending the nation and not on court orders or judgements. It’s also difficult for servicemembers to appear for court appointments while serving overseas.

When it comes to child support or spousal support (alimony), a spouse can receive direct payment or the military member’s pay can be garnished. Each branch of the military has policies about payment and a military commander has legal authority to enforce child or spousal support

Federal and state laws apply

While federal laws apply to matters such as pensions, state laws determine child and spousal support, custody, property distribution and other matters regarding the divorce.

While determining the state of residence for civilians is relatively straightforward, it’s a bit more difficult for members of the military. States provide a little leeway for military couples when it comes to determining residency. Couples can choose to file for divorce in the state:

  • Where the military member is stationed
  • Where the spouse resides
  • Where the military member claims legal residency

In addition, souses of former military personnel can receive medical, commissary and exchange privileges under the 20/20/20 plan. This occurs if the couple was married 20 years or more, there was a 20-year overlap of marriage and military service, and the servicemember has 20 years toward retirement pay.

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