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Military service can make for confusion in divorce

If you are in the military or married to someone who is, you know that life is different than it is for other people. Not only is there a unique culture, but each branch of service has its own nuance. Marriage and family life can be difficult to manage in the civilian world and the demands of a military career only add to the challenge.

The legal maze of military divorce

Debate rages about whether divorce is more common for military couples than for others. Data on the issue is inconsistent because so many different federal and state agencies use different methods to track such statistics, if they are tracked at all.

For the purposes of this post, it is sufficient to say that divorces happen. When they do, state and federal laws, and military rules and regulations can seem to intersect, generating a great deal of confusion. Navigating the legal maze means knowing which laws apply to your situation.

Regardless if you are the service person or the nonmilitary spouse, you need answers and want an outcome that optimally protects your rights. And because state law holds jurisdiction over the divorce process, consulting a civilian attorney with experience in military divorce becomes essential.

Dividing military benefits

One of the most confusing aspects of military divorce centers on service benefits. If the couple lives in base housing, what are the implications? The service person could be ordered into barracks, but Army regulations might require the civilian spouse and the children to vacate. Where to?

Another example relates to military leave accrued by the service person. Leave time accrues to every service person on active duty at a rate of 30 days per year. Skilled attorneys know that this time can be assigned a lump sum figure based on the service person's rate of pay. And, under the equitable division of property standard used in Pennsylvania, a nonmilitary spouse may claim some of that money.

Other benefits that deserve exploration for division include:

  • Pension: Even a short marriage may establish entitlement to some amount for the nonmilitary spouse.
  • Reenlistment bonuses: These can be significant at times and if reenlistment is in the offing, that could influence divorce timing.
  • Insurance: Depending on the source of coverage, there could be a built-in form of savings with the policy, the balance of which could be subject to division.

Of course, the service person spouse has a right to protect the benefits he or she has earned to the greatest extent possible, as well. Here again, the right attorney will be skilled in negotiating acceptable terms.

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