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Divorce is a civil act, but military divorce is unique

If you are married and serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, you already know how tough it can be to make your marriage work. Marriage is difficult under the best circumstances, and the unique challenges of military life can be an added frustration if your relationship is already strained.

Many military couples have strong and vibrant marriages and families, but if yours has not been so fortunate, you have a lot to consider. Although the military does not typically become involved in divorces, you and your spouse must consider certain military laws and protections if you are planning to end your marriage.

A few things to consider

Divorce is a civil matter. Therefore, you will want to obtain legal advice from a civilian attorney and not rely on a JAG, who may be able to give you general advice but who cannot represent you throughout the process. Your attorney should have a firm grasp of military law as well as the divorce laws of Virginia. Meanwhile, you may wish to learn as much as possible about military divorce, including these facts:

  • You may not evict your spouse from on-base housing prior to the divorce although your civilian spouse may not remain on a military base after the divorce is finalized.
  • You may not confiscate your spouse's ID card. Doing so may place you at risk of larceny charges.
  • Your spouse may be able to keep his or her ID if you have been married 20 years or longer, you served in the military at least 20 years and your service in the military overlapped with your marriage for at least 20 of those years.
  • In fact, if your spouse meets the 20/20/20 eligibility, they may retain full benefits after your divorce, including medical coverage and commissary privileges.
  • Similar benefits, including ID privileges, exist for those who are 20/20/15 spouses, meaning your 20 years or more of military service overlaps only 15 years of a marriage that lasted 20 years or longer.

You may have many critical issues to consider, including child custody, the division of your retirement pay and your rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Many of these issues have important deadlines to consider, so you would be wise to seek legal counsel at the earliest stages of the divorce process.

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