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Filing a Military Divorce in California

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For civilian marriages, the chances of a divorce are about 50 percent for a first marriage, but for military marriages, the divorce rate is said to be even higher. Why are service members at such a high risk of divorce? Much of it has to do with the extended periods apart. When spouses are apart for months at a time, they are at a higher risk of “disconnecting,” but another issue is the increased chance of infidelity on either spouse’s part. It’s sad, but adultery is a real threat that haunts military marriages.

No matter how you look at it, divorce is unpleasant. It can draw out intense feelings, such as grief, anger, jealousy, and resentment. On top of that, there are so many emotional, financial, and legal issues that have to be faced for the divorce to be finalized.

If you’re on the road to divorce, you can ease the heartache, stress, and costs of your divorce by educating yourself on California’s divorce laws, on how military divorces are treated differently in some aspects, and by talking with a divorce attorney who handles military divorces.

Seeking Advice on Military Divorce

When it comes to understanding the legal side of your military divorce, a good first step is to contact our Los Angeles divorce firm and schedule a free consultation with one of our divorce lawyers. You may be wondering: “Are military divorces different than civilian divorces?”

California state laws will govern your military divorce, however, there are certain military regulations and federal laws that will apply to your divorce. A lawyer from our firm can assist you with the following issues:

Do Service Members Have Special Rights?

If you’re a service member, you may have concerns about deployment, responding to your spouse’s divorce petition, being able to attend court dates, child custody, dividing military retirement, etc. For starters, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act protects servicemembers’ legal rights in a divorce when they are serving on active duty.

In a traditional divorce, a spouse will file for divorce and the divorce papers will be served upon the other spouse, and he or she will have a certain time limit to “respond” to the divorce. However, that’s not always feasible for service members who are overseas while they are on active duty. Under the Act:

  • If the service member is unable to attend a court proceeding because they are on active duty, the administrative proceeding can be postponed.
  • Service members have legal protections against “default divorces” because of their failure to respond to the divorce. Service members can also be protected from the consequences of failing to appear because they are abroad.

Our attorneys handle both civilian and military divorces in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas, including San Diego. We are available for a free consultation to help you better understand the legal implications of a military divorce.

Military Divorces As Civil Matters

While there are certain legal protections afforded to service members, it’s important to note that for the most part, the military believes that divorces are private, civil matters that are handled in the civilian courts, not the military courts. Whether you are the service member, or you’re married to a service member, you will both need separate attorneys to advise you and ensure you both receive the independent and confidential advice needed.

As both military and civilian divorce attorneys, we can provide you with advice on a wide range of legal issues pertaining to your divorce, including child custody, child support, deployment, retirement benefits, dividing marital property and debts, and the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act.

Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act

The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act is a federal law that was enacted by Congress in 1982. Under the Act, certain former spouses of servicemembers have some financial protections. For example, it allows military disposable pay to be divided in the event of a divorce.

Through a court order, some former spouses can be awarded a portion of military retired by, directly from the servicemember or through direct payment from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS). The Act also lets certain former spouses of members receive medical care among other benefits.

Does It Matter Where I File?

In the civilian world, spouses file for divorce in the state of residence, meaning in the state and county where they live. But for those in the military, it’s common for couples to move around a lot. They may be married in one state, move to a second state, and then move to a third and fourth state.

Further complicating their divorce, the couple may have recently moved to a state, but they haven’t lived there long enough to establish residency and file for divorce. So, what state does a military couple file for divorce in, and does it matter which state they file in?

The divorce laws vary from state-to-state, so it definitely does matter where you file for divorce. For example, in New York, parents pay child support until their children turn 21, but in California, parents generally pay child support until their children turn 18.

In some states, adultery is highly frowned upon and if a dependent spouse cheated, he or she may be barred from collecting alimony or spousal support. However, California is a no-fault divorce state, so infidelity will not impact spousal support. Meaning, a spouse cannot be denied spousal support in California if they committed adultery. So, what state you file a divorce in can have a huge impact on your divorce case.

Next: You Can Have a Great Divorce, Here’s How

To discuss your military divorce with a Los Angeles divorce attorney from our firm for free, contact Claery & Hammond, LLP today.


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