COVID-19 Making Waves in the Military Divorce Process

Divorce during covid concept - military and nurses

The military divorce rate went down from 3.1% in 2019 to 2.8% in 2020. While that might seem like a good thing at first glance, it’s likely that the decline wasn’t due to an increase in marital harmony among service members and their spouses. A more probable reason for the decrease is that COVID-19 threw a wrench in people’s divorce plans (as well as most other plans). Divorce is always difficult; military divorce adds a layer of complexity. Military divorce during COVID is still more challenging, for both servicemembers and their spouses.

Unfortunately, the military divorce rate will probably rebound to its previous rate, and perhaps even higher. For many military couples that were already struggling, the financial, health, and personal pressures caused by COVID-19 might be the straw that breaks the back of their marriage. If you have had to postpone your divorce because of the pandemic, or COVID stress has contributed to the breakdown of your marriage, here are some things to think about.

Divorce During COVID for Military Service Members

As frustrating as it may be to wait for court dates or appointments due to backlogs, remember that things were even worse not that long ago. Court closures and limited capacities for offices that were open at the height of the pandemic created complications for many. As COVID-19 rates decline and courts and other offices have opened up, it has become somewhat easier to schedule hearings and appointments. That said, delays may still be a part of the process.

Scheduling during COVID is hard enough when spouses are in the same place geographically. When one spouse is deployed, it gets even more complicated. You should be aware that the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (SCRA) offers protections to deployed service members so that they can focus on their duties rather than being distracted by legal matters, including divorce. Those protections include a stay of legal proceedings while on active duty.

Military personnel who are served with divorce paperwork while deployed may be entitled to delay proceedings, but they must still act promptly to preserve their rights. If you need to delay your divorce proceedings due to deployment, you need to notify the court in which your divorce case is filed right away. Military courts don’t handle divorces, so divorces are filed in state courts. To ensure your rights are protected, you should work with a divorce attorney who is experienced in the state where your case is filed, but also understands how military divorce is different from civilian divorce.

Simply missing a scheduled court date, whether due to the pandemic or to deployment, is unacceptable and could jeopardize your rights in your military divorce. If you learn that you will be unable to appear at a scheduled hearing, contact your divorce attorney as far in advance as possible.

Pandemic Travel Restrictions and Parenting Time

For much of the pandemic, the Department of Defense has enforced travel restrictions. These restrictions have prevented service members from traveling outside of a forty mile radius from their military base, unless they received prior permission to travel. That created parenting time issues for service members whose spouse or co-parent lived at some distance from the base.

If the service member had to drive more than 40 miles to have parenting time with their child (or to pick up the child for parenting time), they would be hamstrung if the other parent refused to transport the child within the forty-mile radius. Fortunately, as COVID case counts have continued to drop following the Omicron surge, many travel restrictions have been lifted. If you are unsure whether you are subject to travel restrictions, consult your commanding officer.

As of this writing, COVID travel restrictions for most military bases in the United States have been lifted. However, if we have learned anything about COVID, it’s that it is unpredictable. If there is another surge, restrictions could be imposed again. If you are planning to divorce or in the middle of one, it could be worth discussing with your divorce attorney. You may want a provision in your custody and parenting time agreement that if you are unable to travel for parenting time due to government-imposed travel restriction, the other parent will bring the child to you or meet you for exchanges somewhere you are able to travel to.

Choosing an Attorney for Your Military Divorce

Getting a divorce in the military poses unique challenges. It’s important to have an attorney who understands not only divorce, but the military divorce process, and is sensitive to the issues you are facing.

At Brinkley Law Firm, we have helped numerous service members and military spouses navigate the divorce process, including during COVID. We are committed to protecting not only your rights, but your health as we find our way out of this pandemic. To learn more about COVID and military divorce, contact Brinkley Law Firm LLC to schedule a consultation.