Divorce in the Military
When it comes to military families, the divorce process is somewhat different—and often more complicated—than usual. Here is a quick look at how the military divorce process works and how it differs from civilian divorce:
Grounds for Divorce
In the state of California, the grounds for a military divorce are the same as for a civilian divorce. California is a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning the spouse seeking the divorce does not have to prove that the other spouse did anything wrong. Instead, the spouse seeking the divorce simply has to state that the couple cannot get along (the legal term for which is “irreconcilable differences”).
Serving Papers on the Other Spouse
Once you have filled out the initial divorce paperwork, you must formally “serve” the other party with the documents. However, the timeline and requirements for serving divorce papers are different when it comes to a military divorce.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which governs legal actions against members of the military, states that service members cannot be held fully responsible for not responding to civil actions, such as divorce papers. In addition, it is a violation of military regulations to serve papers on board a ship or shore base, and serving papers in certain foreign nations can violate the Hague Convention.
These restrictions can greatly complicate the service process, particularly if the serviceman or woman is stationed overseas or in another state. The court may appoint an active duty service member, reserve service member, or civilian to serve the papers on the other party, but it is most common for a federal agency or uniformed service member to facilitate the legal process. If the military member is stationed abroad, it is preferable to mail the documents to the central authority, which will take care of serving the other party in that jurisdiction.
Responding to Divorce Papers
In a civilian divorce, the person being served divorce papers (i.e. the “respondent”) has 30 days to file a response to the petition. However, this timeline does not usually apply in military divorce cases, which can draw out the divorce process. Civilians can be held legally responsible for not responding within this 30-day time frame, but under the Service members Civil Relief Act, military members have leeway when it comes to filing a response.
Division of Benefits in a Military Divorce
When it comes to calculating child support or spousal support in a military divorce, the process is much the same as a civilian divorce. One important distinction, however, is that California law limits the combined amount of child support and spousal support to 60 percent of a military member’s income.
The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act dictates rules for dividing retirement benefits in a military divorce. This law recognizes the right of state courts to to distribute military pension benefits to a former spouse as long as the two parties have been married for at least 10 years. Other than pensions, however, division of property in a military divorce is handled largely the same as division of property in a civilian divorce.
Military divorces can be particularly complicated, and it is important to have an experienced California divorce attorney on your side. Contact The Law Offices of Soheila Azizi & Associates, P.C. to schedule a legal consultation today.