3 unique complications that military divorce can introduce
Divorcing military spouses often face unique challenges, such as deciding where to file, crafting a parenting plan and properly dividing retirement pay.
In 2015, the Department of Defense reported that the military divorce rate had fallen to the lowest level recorded in the past decade, according to the military and veteran membership organization Military.com. Still, many service members and their spouses must navigate this difficult process each year in San Antonio and other parts of Texas. Unfortunately, these individuals often face many unusual complications in addition to the issues that arise during most divorces.
1. Choice of filing location
Since residency is a prerequisite to filing for divorce in a state, many couples don’t have any say over where they file for divorce. When servicemembers and their spouses live in different states, however, they may file in any state in which one of them has residency. They can also file for divorce in a state that the military spouse is domiciled in. The choice of filing location may significantly impact the following aspects of the divorce:
- Division of marital property
- Awarding of spousal support or maintenance
- Child support obligations
For example, Texas follows community property laws, calculates child support based on fixed guidelines and requires spouses to meet strict criteria to receive alimony. Therefore, spouses who file for divorce here may receive significantly different settlements than they would in other states.
2. Child custody arrangements
Determining child custody and visitation arrangements can also be challenging when one parent faces the possibility of deployment or relocation within the U.S. To address this uncertainty, spouses may need to develop alternate parenting plans that account for different possible outcomes. Parents may also need to consider forms of visitation, such as electronic communication, that allow the military spouse to exercise his or her parental rights.
In Texas, parents have the right to agree to their own parenting plan, which a court can then review and approve. If parents cannot come to terms, the court may order arbitration or directly determine a parenting plan. During any of these processes, it is crucial that the eventual settlement account for issues such as future relocation or deployment.
3. Retirement asset division
Special considerations also apply when spouses are dividing retirement benefits during a military divorce. According to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, a divorcing non-military spouse is eligible for a percentage or fixed amount of the military spouse’s retirement pay. If the marriage lasted at least 10 years and the military spouse served for at least 10 years during that period, the other spouse may receive payments directly from the DFAS.
Unlike many retirement assets, this pay does not have to be divided with a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. Still, given the unique rules that apply, it’s often important for spouses to work with a professional who understands this type of asset division.
Seeking qualified help
Given all of these unusual issues, people preparing for a military divorce in Texas may benefit from consulting with an attorney who understands the unusual issues that these cases often involve. An attorney may be able to help a spouse protect his or her rights while working toward a fitting settlement.