There is no denying the strength of those in America’s armed forces. Those in the service risk their lives taking down terrorists, hostile regimes, and drug cartels on a regular basis. Yet, when it comes to divorce, many soldiers find themselves powerless. No amount of military training can prepare them for the rigorous process of negotiating a settlement and moving on with their lives.
Military divorce is a complicated process because of the number of “moving parts” that it involves. Divorce may be complicated, for example, by the logistical difficulty of serving the petition. If a civilian spouse seeks to divorce an enlisted spouse, the civilian will have to find a representative to serve the enlistee with divorce papers. This can be difficult for anyone who is not familiar with the military and lacks connections to those overseas. To illustrate this difficulty, imagine trying to serve divorce papers to a soldier in the mountains of Afghanistan.
Matters are further complicated by the Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act. This Act states that those service members who are on active duty are protected in judicial proceedings by allowing the court to stay proceedings for a period of not less than 90 days. If the servicemember makes the application the court must grant a stay of the proceedings. Consequently, a soldier could, while on active duty at least, refuse to acknowledge a petition for divorce.
Furthermore, there is the issue of military pensions. Because of the life-and-death nature of their work, service men and women receive a pension. In matters of divorce, the pension becomes an asset of tremendous value. Courts in California treat military pensions as standard assets and work to divide them between the parties. However, California must be able to take jurisdiction over the servicemember by 1) their residence in California, 2) their domicile in California, or 3) via the servicemember’s consent.
If you or your spouse is in the military and you are considering divorce, be sure to seek help from an experienced family law attorney. A good attorney will help you divide any assets, such as pensions, fairly, and help to make the divorce process less intimidating.