Unlike purely domestic divorces, US military personnel who want to end a marriage must comply with both federal and state laws. For example, while a national, civil court may grant the divorce itself, only a federal court can determine the division of military pensions. Ending a marriage is further complicated when the enlisted spouse is stationed overseas. A military divorce may be slightly more complex than a civilian divorce therefore it may be wise to consult with an attorney who has experience in this field.
Military Divorce: General Information About Divorce
Below are three basic facts to know about dissolving any marriage contract:
1) The first thing to do is to contact a military Legal Assistance Attorney. Even a simple, uncontested case may require more than a state-side “Do It Yourself” filing if you or your spouse resides abroad. For contested divorce, where there are disagreements, both spouses are advised to seek legal counsel.
2) Remember that, even if your spouse does not agree to the divorce, a judge makes that final decision. Go forward with your plans, even if your spouse does not consent. However, prepare for more cost and time to achieve your final decree.
3) Did you know that many US states and foreign countries separate the divorce itself from other matters, like property division, child custody, alimony, debts – and military pension? Some places require the presiding judge to make all these determinations; other locations require individual court decisions for each side issue.
Specific Information For Military Divorce Overseas
Here are five specific scenarios for military personnel overseas:
1) If you and your spouse are in agreement, the spouse who resides in your home state of residence (also called your domicile) can file for a valid, legal divorce, recognized in the United States. You do not need to take any overseas legal action.
According to the Rhode Island-based law firm of Howe and Garside, Ltd:
The two elements of domicile are physical presence and intent, which is proven by facts such as the filing of state income and property taxes, voting records, bank accounts, vehicle titles and registration, driver’s license and any other act or property that shows a permanency of residence. Military personnel are allowed to retain the right to their original domicile (where they pay taxes) regardless of where they are stationed in the world.”
2) If you are overseas and your spouse serves you from one of the US states or territories, that location will have jurisdiction over the matter. In this case, your Legal Assistance Attorney is a valuable resource for you, and can help you find representation in the filing location.
3) If you are abroad and want to serve your spouse with a petition for divorce, you must file in the country where you are. This can be very expensive, time-consuming, and is a serious decision not to be taken lightly.
4) Furthermore, US courts do not have to recognize court decrees from other countries. Do not become a victim of low-cost “quickie” divorce offers because they may not be legal in the United States. Again, your Legal Assistance Attorney can steer you toward the most suitable legal solutions available.
5) You cannot serve an active duty military personnel with divorce papers because this could distract them from their duties.
Military Divorce: Tips and Resources
Finally, here are a couple of extra tips for military personnel stationed overseas to assist the divorce process:
- In almost all cases, settling the matters secondary to the dissolution itself (property division, children, alimony, and military pension) before going to court is wise – and less expensive. Some courts remove your options and choices by the time a judge decides your case – so plan ahead and settle up with your spouse in advance, if possible.
- Many jurisdictions have a “waiting period” of 30 days or more after the court grants the final divorce decree. During this time, the divorce can be canceled, effectively, if both parties agree to reconcile and get back together. After the waiting period expires, the divorce becomes legally binding.
In addition to your Legal Assistance Attorney, these websites can give you valuable information.
Military Divorce Websites
- Legal Assistance for Military Personnel
- Family Law in the 50 States – American Bar Association
- The Legal Eagle has published locations of local German Legal Assistance Offices:
Katterbach Community: Katterbach Kaserne, Building 5817
DSN: 467-2103 | CIV: 09802-832103
Illesheim Community: Stock Barracks Army Air Field, Bldg 6506
DSN: 467-4576 | CIV: 09841-83576
The Legal Eagle also has a special publication called You and Your Lawyer with how to hire a helpful attorney. Related Legal Eagle titles cover custody, setting child support and enforcement, dividing military retirement benefits, and parental kidnapping.
The US military is dedicated to supporting its overseas personnel, whether tying the marital knot or untying it. You do not have to face these life challenges alone. We are here to help! Contact us today for help with your divorce case.