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Is a servicemember at risk of default divorce during deployment?

Servicemembers and their families often move from one jurisdiction to another because of the demands of their duty. They travel to whatever base the military chooses to station someone at and often live on base. They have to work long hours when working on base and may need to keep certain matters secret from their spouses.

The stress of military service can damage a marriage. A servicemember and their spouse may have to cope with lengthy separations because the servicemember leaves for long periods of time during deployment. Deployment can put a lot of strain on a marital relationship. In some cases, the non-military spouse might decide that they want to file for divorce during the servicemember’s deployment.

Someone with limited access to regular communications and an inability to return to the jurisdiction where their spouse filed divorce paperwork may worry about an unfavorable outcome. Is a divorce by default inevitable when someone gets served with divorce paperwork during their deployment?

The law allows service members to delay a divorce

The good news for a servicemember concerned about an unfavorable divorce outcome is that they have legal protection. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act does not just apply to debt collection efforts or leases maintained by servicemembers.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act also applies to a divorce filing submitted to the courts during someone’s deployment. Someone who files for divorce can request a default judgment if the other spouse does not respond to their request in a timely manner. The person who filed then has full control over the final terms set, including property division and custody terms.

A servicemember aware of their rights can avoid that unfavorable outcome by invoking the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The law allows them to delay the divorce until after they return from deployment. That delay may give them time to secure their own legal representation, counter their spouse’s proposed terms or even work through marital issues and avoid the divorce altogether. In some ways, military divorces are unique, but they also need to conform to family law statutes.

Understanding what makes military divorces unique can be beneficial both for those actively serving and those married to a servicemember. The right to delay divorce proceedings until someone returns from deployment is a key protection for those in the military.

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