Military Divorce Laws

Military families are different from other families – deployments, base housing, base schools, post exchanges and commissaries.   Naturally then, separation and divorce are different for military families, too.  Divorce, property division, support, custody and visitation are usually entirely governed by state law, but when one or both spouses are in the military, certain federal laws and military regulations affect those issues.  In addition, many individual states have enacted laws that treat military families different, at least in the area of custody and visitation.

Contact Locke & Quinn online, or call us at (804-285-6253), to speak with one of our family law attorneys specializing in military divorce law, and arrange a consultation.

Division of Military Pension

While similar in many respects to division of civilian retirement benefits, there are significant differences.   Military pensions are administered by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS).   The division of retirement in military divorce cases is a matter of state law, but DFAS requires language in a divorce decree, property settlement agreement or Military Retired Pay Order it deems necessary to divide a military pension.

If you are the spouse of a service member, there are several potential traps to be wary of.   For example, if you are entitled to a percent of your spouse’s military retirement and your spouse takes disability pay for a service related disability, the member’s retired pay is reduced by an amount equal to the disability pay.  This has the effect of also reducing the former spouse’s portion of the retired pay (disability pay cannot be divided or shared with a former spouse).   Also, depending on the length of the marriage during military service, DFAS may not by regulation be permitted to directly pay the former spouse a portion of the member’s retirement.  A lot of people, including lawyers, incorrectly think this means that the former spouse may not receive part of the retirement.

Family Support

Each service has regulations requiring its members to provide minimal support to family members in the event of separation.  Usually, the regulations require support to be paid according to the regulation until a court order for support is entered.  Depending on the facts and circumstances of each case, including the rank of the service member, the housing allowance paid by the service and the size of the family, there can be a significant difference between the support required by the service and the support a court would require to be paid.   Therefore, obtaining a court order can cost one spouse or the other a significant amount of money in the long run.

Custody and Visitation

In 2008, the Virginia legislature enacted the Virginia Military Parents Equal Protection Act, Virginia Code § 20-124.7 through 20-124.10.   That act provides certain protections for deploying military parents and provides for expedited hearings in certain circumstances.   In addition, the act requires the non-deploying parent to accommodate the leave schedule of the deploying parent and to facilitate telephone and email between the deployed parent and the child or children.

Other Military Benefits

The entitlement of a non-military spouse to other benefits based on the military service of their spouse, such as commissary and exchange privileges and healthcare, depends on the length of the marriage and that portion of the marriage during which the member was in the military.  If the marriage was for 20 years or more (but less than 30) of which time the service member was in the military for 20 years or more, the spouse is referred to as a 20/20/20 spouse.   The entitlement to benefits varies depending on the length of the marriage that coincides with the service member’s military service.

Contact Us

Contact Locke & Quinn online, or by phone (804-285-6253), for more information about military divorce laws and to arrange a consultation with one of our family law attorneys.

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