What do military members face when confronted with a life event such as divorce? Is it the same as a civilian divorce? Does the military handle divorces?
A letter of gratitude to our military service members
Thank you for your service: On this 4th of July, I would like to take a moment to thank all of my fellow servicemen and servicewomen for their part in preserving our country’s freedoms. The efforts of those men and women, whether they served in the past, are currently serving, or have paid the ultimate sacrifice, are incredibly important. They allow us to celebrate a country that provides an abundance of opportunities and freedoms. So, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
We all know military service requires sacrifice and putting those around us first, but military members still experience the same regular trials and tribulations, pains and hard times as civilians. The family unit is critically important to the success of the military mission. A military member needs a strong front at home to execute his/her duties to the fullest extent.
So, what do military members face when confronted with a life event such as divorce? Is it the same as a civilian divorce? Does the military handle divorces? The answers to these questions are often dependent upon facts specific to each individual case. Some answers are uniform though. For instance, a suit for divorce is governed by state law. (Find out how likely you are to get divorced here). All military members’ divorces go through a civilian court, not a military court. Military members are represented by private attorneys, not a military attorney, or Judge Advocate General (JAG) Officer. However, each military installation has a legal division or office that can provide military members and their spouses with insight into the divorce process and contact information for local attorneys who can assist.
What is the divorce process?
To be clear, each state is different. This article discusses Texas law. Traditionally, one spouse “serves” divorce papers on the other spouse. The receiving spouse is then required to file a formal response, called an “Answer,” in Texas. The “Answer” must be filed within 20 days from the date of service. The next step depends on the specific circumstances of your case. For example, you might need to request “Temporary Orders.” These are commonly referred to as the “Rules of Engagement” during the pending divorce case as they provide, on a temporary basis, the terms for:
conservatorship of the children of the marriage;
parental rights related to the children;
possession of and access to the children;
designation of the primary residence of the children;
temporary child support;
medical/dental care for the children;
temporary use of property; and
temporary injunctions related to the parties or to property.
This list may not include every aspect, since each case is different, but it is meant to help create a picture of what “Temporary Orders” impact. The next phase may be “Discovery.” “Discovery” is the process of collecting documents and/or testimony that evidence the community estate and the income of the parties. These documents will be the evidence utilized at final trial to determine the final disposition of the case related to the children and the division of the community estate.
So how is a military member or veteran different?
In simplistic terms, they are not different. Military members are subject to the same rules in civilian courts as everyday citizens. What makes their situation unique are the different facts that they confront as a result of their military service. For example, what happens if the spouse of a military member files for divorce while the member is on deployment? The Serviceman’s Civil Relief Act (SCRA) allows for military members to request a “stay” of court proceedings if such a situation arises. Protections under the SCRA are not automatic. The active duty military member MUST affirmatively request such a “stay” and detail, to the court, why they are unable to participate in litigation at that point in time. Normally, relief can be obtained for at least 90 days, but it is usually dependent on the length of deployment or service.
Another difference involves some of the pension and retirement benefits related to military service. For example:
Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)
Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP)
Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP)
This also includes possible continued access for the former spouse to military installation perks like the base exchange or commissary. Finding an attorney with the knowledge and experience when dealing with these programs and considerations is critical. It is incredibly easy for an attorney who does not have experience dealing with military/veteran specific issues to miss something. For instance, the simple task of determining child support may be complicated by an attorney’s ability to properly understand the items listed on a military member’s Leave and Earning Statement (LES). This simple document is essentially the member’s paycheck, but it contains much more information that could affect the calculation of a child support obligation, if not interpreted properly.
When getting a divorce, service members and their spouses will inevitably become intimately familiar with the legal issues specific to military divorces. The legal issues mentioned above are just a few of the many that are unique to military divorces. It is imperative to select a lawyer who knows the ins and outs of not only military service, but the way of life for military families.
Our team at Boudreaux|Hunter & Associates has that experience. As a founding partner of this firm, I am passionate about assisting military members as they navigate these difficult situations. I served in the United States Air Force and am a third-generation military member. My family moved a ton when I was growing up. I had to say goodbye to my loved ones when they deployed and when I deployed. These experiences make me, and my highly skilled legal team, distinctively capable of traversing the various obstacles unique to military divorce.
While we celebrate our nation’s independence this 4th of July, I want our service men and service women to know they are not alone. Their daily sacrifice to provide the freedoms that we enjoy are sometimes made in the midst of personal strife, such as divorce. We are here to return the favor and serve you in your time of need.
Our family thanks you for your service!
Kevin D. Hunter, Partner
Boudreaux|Hunter & Associates, LLC
(Formerly of the United States Air Force)