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How a Military Divorce Differs from a Civilian Divorce


From start to finish, a military divorce is different, but at the same time quite similar. The similarity to a ‘regular’ divorce may create some comfort which in turn may create some pitfalls.

Before you start…

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) affords service members with some benefits that are not provided to civilians. For example, when on active duty and overseas, a service member can request that a hearing be postponed.

When starting…

Because service members live wherever the government stations them, the service member has the option of claiming residency in a state where he or she does not actually live. The service member can also file for divorce or a custody case in that state. That said, such a filing may have some drawbacks. For example, if the service member bought real estate in another state, there will be a benefit from finalizing the divorce in the state where the real estate is located, and if the service member has minor children and does not intend to return to his or her home state, there is little benefit to litigate the divorce in a state where the children do not live. Child custody disputes should be resolved in the state where the child lives so that the court can appoint local professionals and if necessary, local experts involved with the child can testify.

When the case is ongoing…

A service member’s support obligation is more difficult to calculate. Service members often receive a variety of allowances such as housing pay, combat pay, etc. Much of a service member’s income is taxed differently.
A ‘standard’ parenting time order often is not feasible for military members because it would eliminate a lot of contact between parent and child. Custody and parenting time orders often should include ordered flexibility, and significant details how to deal with deployment and moves to other areas of the country or world.
Former spouses can receive a portion of a service member’s retirement pay. If spouses were married ten years and the service member performed at least ten years of credible military service, the government will pay the former spouse his or her share.
Similarly, after twenty years of marriage and twenty years of creditable military service and twenty years of overlap, a former spouse is eligible for continued medical coverage under TRICARE.

After the case is finalized…

If a military retirement must be divided pursuant to the judgment, the order must be provided to the military within one year after the Judgment was entered. Anytime thereafter, the military will not honor the order.
Are these all the differences between a military and civilian divorce? Absolutely not! These are just some of the important highlights. An attorney experienced in military divorces can provide guidance regarding the problems unique to military families.