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Military divorce is different

There are many unique challenges to living in a military family, like orders to move on short notice or service members who spend much of their time away. These stressors often build on top of all the other problems that civilian couples also face, sometimes leading to divorce. Divorce is yet another significant hurdle for active duty military members and their spouses. Understanding how military divorce differs from civilian divorce is important for those who are ready to end their unhappy marriages.

A service member or spouse who has retained his or her Maryland residency can still file for divorce in the state even while stationed elsewhere. It is also possible to file for divorce in Maryland without residency so long as one of the two actually resides in the state. In both cases, this means that state law will govern how the divorce proceeds, but so will federal law. Federal law dictates military specific issues, such as dividing military pensions. Alimony and child custody will generally fall to state law.

When dealing with military retirement benefits, spouses are only entitled to a portion if they were married to service members for at least 10 years, overlapping with at least 10 years of service. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service — DFAS — pays these benefits directly to spouses. Additionally, spouses who were married for 20 years that overlapped with 20 years of service are also eligible for medical benefits as well as commissary and exchange privileges.

Due to the nature of serving in the military, active duty service members may not be available for certain court proceedings. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act — SCRA — allows these men and women to apply for a temporary halt of civil action. This includes things like child custody proceedings, which are an important part of divorce.

Military members and their spouses face enough stress as it is, so filing for divorce might feel like just too much. But staying in an unhappy marriage should not be one’s only option. Service members or spouses who are thinking about divorce may want to first speak about their options with an attorney who is experienced with military divorce in Maryland.