military divorce

Military and Divorce: What You Need to Know

Getting a divorce is not a decision that you and your spouse come to lightly and it should not be taken lightly either. Many important factors need to be considered and evaluated, which is why having the right legal team on your side is crucial. Hiring a divorce lawyer is not for everyone, but if your spouse or if you both are military service members, it is vital to a smooth, amicable process. 

How is Military Divorce Different?

First of all, nothing about military life is easy, and a military divorce can be especially stressful or overwhelming if you are not familiar with the process and the legal jargon. A good first step is to use your legal assistance or JAG office on post, whether you live in the United States or overseas. State law differs too and the law and local procedures take precedence. Depending on where you file, certain federal statutes and military regulations apply. 

Different rules apply as well, depending on if you are a service member or if you are a military spouse. While you may have access to free legal help from the installation, the lawyers on post cannot represent you in court. No matter how amicable or mutual a divorce may start, things can take a turn, and having your own legal team separate from your spouse is key. 

Being a local divorce lawyer in Columbus, GA, with our close proximity to Fort Benning, GA, our office is well-versed in the special considerations that apply when it comes to military divorce. 

Your Rights As A Service Member: What You Need to Know

As mentioned above, your attorneys on base can offer guidance and support, but they cannot represent you in court. You will need and should hire a civilian lawyer. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act will help protect your legal rights as a service member while you are on active duty. When divorce papers are served, you typically must respond within a certain time frame; however, under the SCRA, you are entitled to the following benefits:

  • Civil court or administrative proceedings may be extended if you, as the service member, prove you are unable to attend for duty reasons.
  • You, as the service member, may be protected in certain circumstances from default judgments for a failure to appear at trial or respond to a lawsuit.

Your Rights As a Military Spouse: What You Need to Know

As a spouse, you face a different challenge and divorce might be more stressful for you. Chances are you may have been out of the workforce or underemployed because of your spouse’s service to the United States. Therefore, you may be particularly concerned about financial support, healthcare, and other benefits that the military provided. The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act was created to alleviate these concerns. This act is a federal law that provides certain benefits to former spouses of military service members. 

As a former spouse, who does not remarry, you may receive medical privileges, commissary and exchange privileges, and other benefits under the Morale Welfare and Recreation program if you meet the requirements of what is known as the 20/20/20 rule. This rule applies if one of the following criteria is met: 

  • The former spouse was married to the military member for at least 20 years at the time of the divorce, dissolution, or annulment. 
  • The military member has performed at least 20 years of service that is creditable in determining eligibility for retirement pay (the service member does not have to be retired from active duty). 
  • The former spouse was married to the service member during at least 20 years of the service member’s retirement-creditable service. 

There are other rules as well, such as the 10/10 rule and the 20/20/15 rules can also come into play and could provide things like medical care through TRICARE for up to one year and possibly other privileges. Everyone’s situation is unique and various rules apply, which is why it is best to have a military divorce lawyer or an attorney with experience navigating the intricacies of military divorce rules so you know which apply and which take precedence. 

In addition to these rules, a civilian attorney or divorce lawyer will help you navigate civil court, particularly when it comes to child custody, spousal and child support, division of assets, and more. Remember, the primary job of a divorce lawyer is to protect you and your interests, first and foremost. 

Other Special Considerations With A Military Divorce

The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act recognizes the rights of states to distribute military retirement pay between spouses in accordance with the state’s particular court system. This act will offer some protections, but state law still takes precedence, and retirement and other benefits will be awarded through the state court system as part of the final divorce order. In addition to retirement pay, there are other facets to consider for active duty, such as BAH, TRICARE, and moving costs:

  • Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) 

Once the divorce is official, the non-military spouse will usually lose access to family housing on post 30 days after the service member moves out. You will no longer receive BAH as the former military spouse and the current service member will have their BAH benefits affected as well. 

For example, if you are single without children, you may move back to the barracks or military dorms. If you have dependent children and are granted custody, then you will continue to receive the “BAH with dependents” rate. If you are not granted custody but are required by law to pay child support, then you will receive “BAH-Differential,” which is given to a military service member who is assigned to a single-living quarter but also has to make child support payments. Various scenarios can exist within these parameters as well, so you should also consult both your military divorce lawyer and a contact in finance or military benefits on base. 


Obviously, if you are a service member, you will continue to receive your healthcare benefits. However, if you were a non-military spouse and do not receive TRICARE under the provisions of the rules mentioned above, there are options to purchase health insurance under the Department of Defense Continued Health Care Benefit Program. Essentially, for a certain period after the divorce has been finalized (and if you qualify), you can purchase health insurance for up to 36 months while you explore other options, job opportunities, etc. 

  • Moving Costs

Typically, moving costs are negotiated in the divorce settlement, but there are circumstances under which the military could pay for the non-military spouse to move. In particular, if the service member is stationed overseas when the divorce is finalized, the military will usually pay for the non-active duty spouse to move back. Otherwise, it is up to the individuals to pay for their move. 

Why You Should Obtain Legal Representation

Understanding all of these laws, acts, and rules can quickly become overwhelming and confusing, which is why we suggest hiring a divorce lawyer, such as Phillips-Sellers Law Firm in Columbus, GA, as soon as possible. Seeking out a divorce lawyer who is familiar with the intricacies and special provisions of a military divorce is crucial and can mean the difference between retaining some military benefits and losing them. You want to find a lawyer or firm who is experienced with military divorces and that you can trust to protect your interests. 

Contact Phillips-Sellers Attorneys At Law today for your legal help!

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