Divorcing a Spouse During Military Deployment

Wedding rings on an American flag emblem

Any military spouse can tell you that deployment is hard on a marriage. But if you’re reading this blog post, chances are you don’t need someone else to tell you about the stresses of deployment. Whether you are the spouse keeping the home fires burning or the servicemember far from home and family, you understand the challenges firsthand. And, like many others in your shoes, you may be considering divorce during deployment.

Divorce is a challenge even when both spouses are in the same town and agree to the divorce. Military divorce can be much more challenging. Not only is one spouse far away under difficult work conditions, but federal law protecting deployed military servicemembers interacts with state law regarding divorce, child custody, support, and division of property. Here’s what you need to understand about divorce during deployment.

Consult an Attorney ASAP

Whether you are considering filing for divorce or your spouse has brought up the possibility, the first thing you need to do is to consult an attorney. Consulting an attorney doesn’t mean that you are giving up on the marriage, or even that you need to hire that particular attorney. It means that you are gathering the information you need to make good decisions for yourself and your family. And failing to consult an attorney doesn’t mean that you can delay or prevent a divorce. In fact, not getting an attorney’s guidance could put you at a severe disadvantage in a military divorce.

An experienced military divorce attorney will advise you of your rights as a servicemember or military spouse and answer any questions you have about what may lie ahead in a divorce during deployment.

Collect and Organize Financial Documents

Your initial consultation with an attorney will help you understand what documents you will need in a military divorce. Generally, these include the same documents you would need in any divorce: bank, financial, and investment statements; mortgages and other evidence of debt; pay stubs and other records of income; tax returns; vehicle titles; information about assets, and more.

If you are the military spouse living stateside, these records may be relatively easy to get your hands on. If you are on active duty and deployed overseas, it may be more challenging, though you may be able to access some records online. This information will be relevant when it comes time to divide assets and determine child support and alimony (if any) in your divorce.

It’s always helpful to have this information on hand, but if you can’t get it, don’t panic. Your attorney can request these records during the discovery process. If you are deployed, it will be even more important to have an attorney you trust to attend to legal business you are not available to deal with.

Make a Budget

Assembling financial information will give you a sense of purpose and control over the divorce process. But the real value of gathering financial documents is that it will help you plan for the future. In order to bargain effectively in your divorce, you will need to know not only what financial resources are available to you, but what your expenses and needs are likely to be. Your attorney can better argue for what you should receive in the divorce if you have a solid understanding of your budget and needs.

Make Use of Resources Available to You

There are resources available to help military spouses during tough times. But these resources are only available to you while you are still a military spouse, so take advantage of them. Divorce isn’t only a legal or financial matter. It is a deeply emotional one, whether you or your spouse is the one initiating the divorce. Military One Source can help you find counseling and other sources of support and guidance while you are dealing with all the ordinary stresses of being a military spouse, plus divorce during deployment. If you wait until after your divorce to seek counseling, you will not have access to the same resources as you do as a current military spouse.

Learn How Military Divorce is Different

On some levels, military divorce is the same as any divorce: you have to divide your assets, decide who will have custody of the children and how visitation will work, figure out child support and determine if one spouse is entitled to alimony.

But there are also things that are different about a divorce during deployment. Deployed servicemembers still have to be served with divorce papers, but the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) may allow a deployed individual to put the divorce on hold during the deployment and get extra time to respond to divorce filings. Despite being protected by the SCRA, deployed servicemembers should still have an attorney stateside to look after their interests.

Spouses retain their rights as military spouses during the divorce process, such as being able to keep their military dependent ID and base housing. However, once you cease to be a military spouse, those benefits disappear (your children will retain rights as military dependents, however). You will also want to understand the rules around dividing military pensions in divorce.

Whether you are deployed or facing divorce from a spouse who is, you need to work with an attorney who knows not only the divorce laws of your state, but what’s unique about military divorce. If you have questions about divorce during employment, please contact Brinkley Law Firm LLC to schedule a consultation.