Military Divorce differs from a Civilian divorce

A Military divorce involves certain issues and laws that differ from a civilian divorce. Over the years, I have had the pleasure of representing members of the military as well as spouses of military members.

One of the most challenging issues in a military divorce is how to arrange appropriate time-sharing (this is the term that replaced custody and visitation) taking into consideration the member’s deployment. In civilian cases this is typically not an issue as both parents usually live in the same vicinity throughout the year.

Accommodations should be negotiated to provide the member adequate time with the children upon return from deployment. Also, while deployed consistent contact between the member and the children via phone (when available) and email is critically important so that a healthy bond is maintained.

A divorce attorney handling military cases needs to be familiar with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (formerly the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act). This Act provides certain protections to a military member when they cannot participate in the divorce case due to their service requirements. This issue typically comes up when a non-member tries to proceed with a divorce from a member who is deployed or fighting a war in a foreign country.

Knowledge as to how military retirement benefits are dealt with in a Florida divorce case is also important. Florida law provides that retirement benefits earned during the marriage are to be equitably distributed (the starting point is 50/50). However, this is not the same as saying the non-member receives 1/2 of the entire retirement benefit which the member receives upon retirement. Often times the member was enlisted prior to the marriage and/or will provide service after the divorce which would be considered non-marital.

It should be noted that if the member and non-member are married for at least 10 years during which time the member served in the military, then the non-member can receive direct pay from the military. Anything less than 10 years does not qualify.

Entitlement to survivor benefits is another issue that has to be dealt with in a military divorce. Many members do not want survivor benefits awarded to their non-member spouse as it lowers the net amount they will receive. However, non-members want the protection that survivor benefits provide. There is no automatic right to survivor benefit coverage so this issue sometimes has to be decided by the court.

Copyright © 2011 Steven A. Leitman
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