Servicemembers often serve lengthy deployments where they are away from home for months or even years at a time. While they provide an important service to our country by being deployed, a deployment can take a toll on one’s marriage. It is not unusual for a deployed servicemember to be served with divorce papers from their civilian spouse. When that happens, they may have concerns about responding and what their rights are if they are stationed away from home.
Jurisdiction and residency when a servicemember is deployed
First, it is important to note that courts cannot grant a divorce to civilians or servicemembers unless they have jurisdiction over the proceedings, meaning they have the authority to hear and decide upon the action brought before them.
Generally, in a civilian divorce, the court with jurisdiction is the one where the person resides. However, when it comes to a military divorce, servicemembers or their spouses have three options when deciding what court to file their divorce in. They can file for a divorce in the state where the civilian or servicemember spouse resides. They can file for divorce in the state where the servicemember is stationed or file for divorce in the state where the servicemember is stationed or claims legal residency.
“Stays” can be sought to protect deployed servicemembers
It is also important to understand that if a servicemember is on active duty, they are offered certain protections in a divorce. Per the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a servicemember on active duty can move the court for a temporary halt of divorce or child custody proceedings, known as a “stay,” so they can focus on their service to our nation without having to face a judgment that is not in their favor, just because they are not available to be in court in person due to their service.
Deployments can be stressful for families and some marriages cannot hold up under them. While divorce may be the best option for some, servicemembers should not have to fear that an adverse judgment will be made against them simply because they are deployed. Fortunately, U.S. law protects deployed servicemembers to focus on serving our country during times of need.