Divorce and the Military

Military divorces can differ from standard family law cases when it comes to residence requirements for filing, obtaining process service upon an active duty spouse, compliance with military rules and regulations, and the division of a military pension.

It is necessary to personally serve the active duty member with a summons and petition for dissolution of marriage in order for a court to have jurisdiction.

If the respondent is overseas or deployed, this service can be extraordinarily difficult as it is governed by the soldiers and sailors act. It is possible to request that military authority serve the active duty member, but service is allowed only with the active duty member’s consent.

If the member will not consent, one solution is to have the court appoint an active duty, reserve, or even civilian natural person as an officer of the court to serve the papers. However, service aboard any ship or shore installation violates military regulations. Also, service in the territorial jurisdiction of many foreign nations may violate the Hague Convention.

Pursuant to the Hague Convention, it is possible and preferable to serve the summons and petition abroad by mailing the documents to the “central authority” who will then accomplish service in accordance with the law of that jurisdiction, which is sufficient under most states law. Over 30 countries are parties to the Hague Convention.

A recent change in federal regulations promises easier service of process on members with children when those members are stationed overseas. Under this law, Federal agencies and the uniformed services to designate officials who shall be responsible for facilitating service of legal process, regardless of the location of the members’ duty station. The process must be to establish paternity or enforce a child support obligation, including medical support orders.

While each state may have different laws regarding how family law cases are to be handled and community property divided, the federal government has enacted legislation titled The Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act (USFSPA) that governs the calculation and division of military pension benefits.

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