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I’m married to an active-duty servicemember and want a divorce: What do I need to know?

In addition to the daily challenges faced by all married couples, especially over the past year, military spouses face unique demands created by long deployments, lengthy separations, frequent relocations and other issues – many beyond their control – that can lead to marital strife.

While military divorces are typically no more complicated than civilian divorces, special requirements and rules apply to service members and their spouses in many instances. These laws help determine child custody, dividing marital assets and even where they can file to end their marriage.

Which jurisdiction does a military divorce fall under?

Military spouses generally have three options when it comes to filing for divorce. They can file:

  1. In the state where they currently live
  2. In the state where the military member legally resides
  3. In the state where the military member is stationed

If you file in Kentucky or Tennessee, you must typically have been a resident for at least 180 days before you can file. However, an experienced military divorce attorney understands the mobile lifestyle for service members and can identify special jurisdictional rules applicable to your situation.

How is child custody determined?

Just as is the case in civilian divorces, courts put the child’s best interests first when determining custody in military divorces. While active-duty parents can gain custody, it can be an uphill battle for service members who go on deployments or spend considerable time away from their families.

Regardless of their living situation, military families must have an official Family Care Plan detailing how their children will be cared for after the divorce is finalized. The plan outlines their children’s daily activities, provides medical and educational information, lists close contacts and other critical details.

How are marital assets divided?

Most property acquired during a marriage is handled according to state laws in a military divorce. Tennessee and Kentucky are equitable distribution states, meaning all assets owned by both parties are “fairly divided,” which does not necessarily mean they will be split 50/50.

Just like civilian retirement benefits, military pensions are also typically divided between spouses who divorce. Those funds are eligible for division under the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA). However, VA benefits are not included.

Former military spouses can qualify under the USFSPA for other benefits, such as medical, exchange, commissary and other privileges through the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Program under the so-called 20/20/20 rule. These requirements include:

  • Former spouses who were married for at least 20 years when the divorce took effect
  • The service member has at least 20 years of service and qualifies for retirement pay
  • The former spouse was married during at least 20 years of the member’s retirement-creditable service

Resolving challenges for military families

Divorce can be an extremely devastating time for anyone, but military spouses face many added challenges than civilian couples going through the process. That’s why it’s crucial to work with a lawyer who understands the unique hurdles that can arise.

Having an attorney with a history of helping spouses at Fort Campbell, Arnold Air Force Base and National Guard members can help you achieve the best outcome by intimately understanding military rules and state laws related to the process.