What Are the Biggest Challenges in a Military Divorce Lawsuit?

What Are the Biggest Challenges in a Military Divorce Lawsuit?

Military marriage isn’t easy. With lengthy separations, frequent relocations, and relatively low pay, it’s common for one or both spouses to feel isolated and as though they lack support from the other. Enlisted service members have a higher divorce rate than the national average for civilians with the highest rate for Air Force active-duty members at four percent followed by the Army and Marine Corps at 3.7% and Navy at 2.7%. Female troops have a higher divorce rate than male military members. Soaring rates of PTSD and increased instances of spousal abuse among active duty service members contribute to the higher-than-average divorce rate.

No divorce is easy—either emotionally or legally—but a military divorce presents many challenges that are unique to service members. Just as military marriages have significant stressors, so do military divorces. If you’re facing a divorce as an active duty service member or as a military spouse, you may wish to know what challenges you have ahead of you in the military divorce process in Arizona. Contact one of our Scottsdale military divorce lawyers is a great way to help further explain the complexities of your situation.

Where Do I File For a Military Divorce?

Determining where to file for divorce is the first challenge facing divorcing military spouses. Unlike in civilian divorces, where spouses simply file in their home jurisdictions, many military spouses live in separate states while one is deployed, or a deployed spouse may be overseas. Frequent family relocations may contribute to confusion about where to file for a military divorce. When spouses live in different states, choosing in which state to file is an important decision that impacts many aspects of the divorce. For instance, Arizona is a community property state that requires a fair and equitable division of marital assets and debts. During military divorce lawsuits, a judge has the discretion to discern what is fair if not exactly equal. Many other states require a strict 50/50 division of marital assets.

Divorcing spouses must meet the residency requirements of the state where one spouse files for divorce as the petitioner in the process. In Arizona, one spouse must have resided in the state for at least 90 days or on active duty in the state for at least 90 days to file for an Arizona divorce.

How is a Military Spouse Served Divorce Papers if They are Overseas?

Another challenge often arises in military divorces when the respondent in the divorce is actively deployed overseas. Arizona only allows petitioners 120 days from their filing date to serve divorce papers to the responding spouse. When a spouse is deployed overseas the process-serving system requires the petitioner to contact the central office of the Hague Convention which coordinates with other countries for process-serving.

If you are the deployed spouse and receive divorce papers while overseas, the Service Member’s Civil Relief Act (SCRA) protects service members from the threat of a spouse using the default-divorce process due to an active-duty service member’s failure to respond within the 120-day window. Rather than the standard 20 days to respond to a spouse’s divorce petition, an active duty military spouse has the entire time of their deployment plus 60 days to file their response before the divorce becomes a divorce by default. This rule also helps a service member to focus on their military mission without distraction. Unfortunately, this may have a negative impact on the civilian spouse who has to wait for their divorce to proceed.

Navigating Child Custody and Child Support During a Military Divorce Case

Divorces are hard on children, but like most states, Arizona family courts make all decisions in the best interests of children. Arizona courts assert that the best interest of children is for close continued close contact with both parents, but this premise isn’t always applicable to active-duty service members with frequent deployments and long separations. When one or both parents are in the military, child custody/parenting time arrangements require special considerations. Often the civilian parent bears the bulk of childcare which also impacts the amount of child support paid from the parent with the lesser amount of parenting time to the parent with the greater amount. The law cannot require a military parent to pay more than 60% of their income in child support.

Active-duty parents must make arrangements for the temporary transfer of child custody to the other parent during deployment. In some cases, the active-duty parent may transfer a portion of their parenting time to a relative such as a parent or sibling in a family care plan.

When one or both parents are active-duty service members, it’s more likely that a parent will seek a later modification of child custody orders.

The Division of Assets, Including Military Retirement

Like many states, Arizona compels divorcing spouses to fairly and equitably divide the assets belonging to the marital community. For many divorcing spouses, their retirement account is one of their most significant assets. In military divorces, the armed forces have specific rules for the division of military pensions depending on the duration of the marriage. For marriages of ten years or more with one spouse on active duty for those ten years, the civilian spouse receives a portion of the pension sent to them directly through the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. For marriages of less than ten years, the entire pension check goes to the service member who then must send a monthly payment to the non-military spouse.

Marriages of 20 or more years duration allow the non-military spouse to retain healthcare benefits and access to the commissary as well as their share of the retirement pension.

In a military divorce, the remainder of the spouses’ assets and debts are divided according to Arizona’s marital property laws.

How Does Spousal Support Work in a Military Divorce Lawsuit?

Like child support, calculating spousal support (alimony) in a military divorce follows the same laws as a civilian divorce. The court may put spousal support orders in place when one spouse earns significantly less than the other spouse and/or one spouse supports the other through their education and career goals or puts their own career goals on hold to support their spouse’s career or to raise the children of the marriage. Military spouses who receive spousal support have an additional enforcement measure through a written complaint made to the active duty service member’s commander who may then direct payment from the service member’s pay, issue reprimands, or put criminal sanctions in place.