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Divorcing in the Military

Ohio attorney Dalma Grandjean discusses ending a marriage when one partner is a service member

Getting a divorce is never an easy process for a couple to go through, but when at least one of them is in the military, an entirely new layer of complexity is added.

For one thing, the physical location of the military member can sometimes pose a challenge. “There may be complications in getting service on the service member if he or she is overseas, aboard a naval vessel or deployed to an unknown location,” says Dalma C. Grandjean, a family law attorney who practices at Buckley King in Dayton, Ohio.

Even if the whereabouts of both parties are known, the service member may well be stationed in a different location from the other spouse. “Sometimes the wife files in one state and the husband files in another,” Grandjean says. “The two states then have to decide which has jurisdictional priority.”

Custody matters

And when minor children are involved, decisions involving custody arrangements can become a tricky matter. “While courts are not supposed to view military service as a detriment to custody,” Grandjean says, “the reality is that the parent who is home with the children has an advantage over the one who is periodically deployed.”

Property and pension

Divvying up property can also be a very different process from how things typically work in a civilian divorce. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act grants divorce courts the right to award the non-military spouse a share of the service member's pension.

“Since service members can retire after 20 years, sometimes less, they can be as young as 40 when they retire,” Grandjean notes. “A former spouse's receipt of the marital share of the pension can create a substantial income stream during the lifetime of the retired service member. If the court also orders the service member to designate the former spouse as his survivor beneficiary, then the former spouse can continue to receive a share of the pension for his or her lifetime.”

The right attorney

In any divorce, it’s important to have an experienced family law attorney on board. Even in the simplest dissolution, in which there is no co-owned property and no minor children, it’s a good idea to have an attorney review any proposed do-it-yourself divorce agreement.

But if at least one partner is in the armed forces, it’s best for both parties to hire a lawyer with solid experience at handling military divorces.

A lawyer who represents either spouse in a military divorce needs to be familiar with a wide array of military-related policies and law, such as veterans’ and military disability  benefits, combat-related special compensation, concurrent retirement and disability pay, the Serviceman's Civil Relief Act, policies on support of dependents, etc.

“Attorneys who take on military divorce,” Grandjean advises, “need to be well-versed in matters which are unique to service members and which commonly occur in military divorces.”

For more information, see our overview on divorce law.

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