A Guide to Military Divorce
New Jersey Divorce When You or Your Spouse is in the Military
Military service can affect both procedures and results in divorce cases. Federal and state laws, as well as individual branch regulations, often work together in unexpected ways.
Although military divorces can be difficult and complicated for all parties involved, an experienced military divorce attorney can help you resolve all of your spousal, child-related, and financial issues. As a military serviceperson, your property and parental rights should be protected. With the right legal representation, you can protect your future and your legal rights during divorce or legal separation proceedings, even if you or your spouse is currently serving abroad.
Deciding Where Military Personnel File for Divorce
A servicemember or spouse filing for divorce may have a choice with regard to where to file for divorce depending on the where each party claims their legal residence and the divorce laws of that state.
In the State of New Jersey, military personnel are allowed to file for a divorce in one of three places:
- The state that the serviceperson is currently stationed
- The state that the spouse currently resides
- The state that the serviceperson claims residence
Scheduling Court Hearings for ServiceMembers
Courts are sympathetic if the servicemember is overseas and often grant permission for the servicemember to appear by telephone for some of the proceedings. Even when service is successful, if deployment prevents the servicemember from fully participating in a court proceeding, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act allows a court to delay (or “stay”) the proceedings until the servicemember is available. Sometimes a telephonic hearing is an available option to expedite matters. However, a spouse may still be able to get a court order for temporary child support in the interim waiting period.
Spousal and Child Support with Military Divorce
Although the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy all have different policies governing payment of child and spousal support for parties without an agreement or court order, obtaining an order enforceable through wage garnishment requires an application in state court. To accurately calculate income available for support, your attorney will review the servicemember’s Leave and Earnings Statement, as well as estimate an appropriate amount for items such as food and housing provided without cost.
Child Custody and Parenting Time for Military Parents
Custody and parenting time arrangements should provide stability for children while also providing flexibility for parents in active service. Many states have laws that limit the courts’ authority to make permanent custody and visitation orders during a parent’s deployment. New Jersey recently joined this group with Governor Christie's signing a bill in January 2013 preventing courts from entering final orders establishing custody or permanently changing custody or parenting time orders until at least 90 days after the end of a deployment. The law also contains additional protections for deployed parents.
Read more about the recent NJ law change: New Jersey Gives Military Parents Added Protection for Child Custody & Visitation Issues
Pensions and Benefits with Military Divorce
The Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act allows states to treat a servicemember’s military pension accrued during marriage as a marital asset, but both the rules and the mechanics of distribution are different from those applying to civilian pensions and retirement accounts. Court orders in divorce matters can also affect a divorcing servicemembers choice of beneficiaries in a Survivor Benefit Plan.
High health care costs have made medical benefits an issue in many divorces. Former military spouses may be eligible to continue their medical coverage under TRICARE provided that the marriage lasted for 20 years, during which the military spouse served for at least 20 years (the marriage and military service must overlap by at least 20 years), the former spouse does not have medical coverage under an employer-sponsored health plan, and the former spouse has not remarried. Spouses married for 20 years with the terms stated above, but with the military spouse serving only 15 years of creditable retirement service, are entitled to one year of medical care, but no other benefits. After the first year and for spouses that do not meet the 20/20/20 rule or the 20/20/15 rule, the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP) extends some medical benefits to former military spouses, irrespective of the term of the marriage, provided certain requirements are met.
Military divorce laws are very complex so it is important to have an attorney in New Jersey who understands all these aspects of military family law to represent your interests so that none of these intricate details are overlooked.