Divorce is never easy for anything, but there are some issues in divorce that are especially difficult for members of the military. Some of these issues are purely logistical. Service members who are on active duty can be sent to remote areas at a moment’s notice, making it hard to take care of paperwork, communicate with lawyers or appear in court when needed. Some of these issues run a little deeper.
Divorce, property division, child custody and other family law issues are usually controlled by state law. For members of the military, the law of the state that is the person’s legal domicile will control most issues in the case. However, there is also the federal Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act, which provides some income for divorced spouses of service members. If the marriage was at least 10 years long, the ex-spouse may be entitled to some retirement benefits as well.
The USFSPA also provides ex-spouses with health care benefits and benefits at military commissaries and exchanges under some circumstances. Again, these benefits are dependent on the length of the marriage. A former spouse who was married to the service member during at least 20 years in which the service member was on creditable service is known as a 20/20/20 former spouse and keeps full commissary, exchange and healthcare benefits.
As its name implies, the USFSPA is intended to protect spouses who have depended on the income of a service member for many years. In some cases, spouses have given up their own careers and moved far from home. Often, they have had to move multiple times. Without the USFSPA, they could be in a very bad financial situation.
Still, these and other laws can make military divorce more complicated. It’s important for service members and their spouses who are considering divorce to talk to a lawyer who is experienced in the intricacies of military divorce.