About 50% of active-duty personnel in the military are married, and 40% of those families have children. But, as in civilian life, some of these marriages will fail. For military families, navigating divorce presents layers of complexity unique to the military sphere.
Civilian couples file for divorce in the state that has jurisdiction to hear the case, which is typically where they meet residency requirements. This becomes complicated for servicemembers and their families, who may regularly move around the country or the world for extended periods when deployed.
State of legal residence
The Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act addresses the jurisdictional conundrum by allowing a servicemember to be a legal resident of one state while being stationed elsewhere. The state of legal residence is where the servicemember votes in federal and state elections, pays taxes, probates a will, and qualifies for in-state tuition. This is where the servicemember intends to return after retirement.
Depending on which spouse initiates the divorce, the state of legal residence may be the state that controls property division, spousal and child support, and child custody and visitation.
There are other dimensions of divorce unique to military families. For one, there is the question of benefits. Under the 20/20/20 rule, after divorcing, qualified military spouses will continue to receive Tricare (comprehensive health coverage), commissary and exchange privileges, and a percentage of the divorced spouse’s retirement pay.
The 20/20/20 requirement is met if the couple was married for at least 20 years, the servicemember served at least 20 years prior to the divorce, and there was at least a 20-year overlap of marriage and service. Remarriage will terminate the ex-spouse’s entitlement to military benefits.
Each case will have its own specific questions and challenges. Given the complexity of life in the military, we recommend you seek the guidance of experienced attorneys with specialized knowledge of military family law.