Military Divorce in Arizona Law

Military Divorce Attorney Phoenix Arizona

Military divorce in Arizona law is an attorney’s way of describing the divorce process when either spouse is a service member. We are talking about active duty and retired members of the U.S. Coast Guard, Army, Air Force, National Guard (as they enter active duty), Navy, and Marines Corps. Commissioned officers of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Public Health Service (PHS) also encounter military-related issues in their divorces.

In many ways, obtaining a military divorce in Arizona is the same as obtaining a non-military divorce. Emotionally and financially, breaking up and choosing to end the marriage is no less challenging for service members than it is for civilians who have no military connection.

We know that divorce is seldom an easy experience. Knowing what proceedings are to come and what the court requires can help ease the stress of making tough decisions about family, property, and the future. Understanding more about military divorce, and Arizona divorce generally, helps spouse’s make better decisions in a thoughtful way. With that objective in mind, let’s get started!

What Is Divorce from a Service Member About?

In a general sense, every military divorce begins with many of the same issues that an experienced divorce attorney would anticipate between two civilian spouses, including:

  • Who pays which credit card debt, car loan, or home mortgage?
  • What assets are community property? What is each spouse’s separate property?
  • Who stays in the marital home and who leaves?
  • How will pensions, retirement accounts, and investments be divided?
  • Who will have legal decision-making custody?
  • Who will the children live with most of the time?
  • Which parent will have the children during summer vacation?
  • Should either party be awarded spousal maintenance?
  • What is the value of a professional practice or small business owned by one or both spouses?

Those kinds of decisions are routinely negotiated in just about every divorce. In the event the spouses are not in agreement on parenting time, pension division, or some other issue, the court must make a determination for them. If either spouse objects to the court’s final decision, then an appeal can be filed with the appellate court.

Military Divorce Vs. Civilian Divorce

When compared to a strictly civilian divorce, the military divorce process paints a broader brush with many hidden intricacies. It brings in yet another layer of legal complexity for the sole reason that one spouse (or both spouses) is a member of the U.S. Armed Forces. Consider the following:

  • How should a military spouse be served with divorce papers if he or she is overseas? What if the service member is deployed in a war zone?
  • If the overseas spouse will not accept voluntary service of process, then how should he or she be served under the appropriate treaty? What is the treaty in force?
  • Who will care for the children while both parents are deployed?
  • What if one spouse, a foreign national, desires to remove the children from the U.S. and return to his or her native country?
  • What if financial troubles, such as home foreclosure, were a direct consequence of the spouse’s military service?
  • Can an Arizona court exercise jurisdiction over the spouse’s military pension?
  • When is disability pay and retired pay considered for purposes of calculating child support, spousal maintenance, or dividing marital assets?

Understanding the intricacies a spouse’s military service brings to a divorce is necessary for everyone involved: parties, lawyers, judge, child custody evaluator, mediator, parenting coordinator, best interests attorney, and so on.

For the divorce lawyer, the demands of military divorce practice require knowledge of Arizona law, federal law, international law, and military regulations, all of which may impact how the case is litigated and ultimately resolved.

An attorney in the practice of military divorce should have more than a casual understanding of the interrelationship between state and federal laws, the Hague Convention, treaties, and the laws of other countries where service members are routinely stationed. If you or your spouse is a service member, then obtain the best legal advice you possibly can for your divorce.

Military Divorce Follows a Different Track

Although military divorce is an unofficial category of Arizona law, the divorce process almost always follows a different track because of a spouse’s active duty in the U.S. military. For some service members, the divorce process will be quite different from the otherwise typical divorce (even if there were such a thing). For others, past or present military service will be a fairly minor component of their divorce. In either instance, awareness of the potential legal pitfalls is crucial for the best possible outcome.

Military cases often present unique situations. What this means is that the facts of each case must be assessed based upon the specific circumstances presented. A retired Army officer who has no minor children, for example, presents a completely different situation than the young mother of two who is deploying to Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria. The wounded combat soldier receiving disability pay has a substantially different custody case to present than the Arizona dad who is the children’s primary caregiver while his AF wife is serving halfway around the globe. Always consult an experienced divorce lawyer about your specific circumstances and the impact your military status (or your spouse’s) may have on the proceedings.

Military families move around, another complication with divorce. An Air Force spouse stationed at Lackland AFB in Texas may be transferred to Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona, for instance, relocating his or her family in the Tucson area. To file for divorce in this state, one of the spouses must be domiciled in Arizona or, in the alternative, be a member of the armed services stationed here for at least 90 days. A.R.S. § 25-312.

How Does Military Divorce Differ from Civilian Divorce

Military divorce in Arizona differs from civilian divorce in several important ways. There are a number of U.S. laws that apply to service members and their spouses as parties to civil lawsuits, such as divorce, legal separation, annulment, child custody, or paternity establishment. Additionally, state statutes and international conventions must also be considered, the applicability of which depends upon the parties’ specific circumstances.

To begin, two key federal laws are the:

  • Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA): The SCRA suspends divorce and other civil lawsuits or administrative proceedings to protect active duty service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and activated National Guard. NOAA and PHS commissioned officers are also protected. The SCRA revised and modernized the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act (SSCRA) of 1940; and the
  • Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act (USFSPA): The USFSPA applies to the division of military retired pay as community property in a divorce. The USFSPA also gives the former spouse a mechanism for enforcing court-ordered spousal maintenance, child support, and child support arrears.

To learn more about these and other federal laws and protections, whether you are the military spouse or the civilian spouse, consider obtaining our book on Arizona Military Divorce Essentials: For Service Members, Retired Military, and Their Civilian Spouses.

Arizona Child Custody in Military Divorce

With child custody, Arizona divorce law requires a determination of legal decision-making authority and parenting time in the best interests of the child. The statute also sets forth the requirement of a parenting plan.

Any divorce, military or civilian, can involve a child custody contest and a battle of the experts. But when a military divorce includes minor children, custody proceedings could expand to invoke the Hague Convention and Arizona’s Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).

  • The Hague Convention in Arizona Military Divorce

Like many developed countries, the U.S. is a member of the Hague Convention. Among other things, the Hague Convention controls many inter-country, multilateral domestic relations matters including international recognition of divorce and legal separation, child custody, parent abduction of a child, recovery of child support, and service of process. For some military families, the Hague Convention will have a considerable impact on the divorce process and outcome.

The jurisdictional laws in military divorce are complex as well. Establishing Arizona as the child’s home state under the UCCJEA and dealing with international child custody orders issued by a foreign government are only two examples.

We encourage you to read all of the materials made available in our military divorce information center. But don’t stop there. Keep learning about the divorce process in Arizona law, child custody, a division of community property, spousal support, and so on. When you are ready to start looking for a lawyer to represent you in court, read our discussion on how to choose an attorney with military divorce experience.

Dividing Property in Military Divorce

Arizona divorce law mandated division of all marital property in a military divorce. This process of dividing community assets and debts can be quite complex, depending upon the nature of the property being divided. With military divorce, it is not unusual for the spouses to acquire marital property in other states or countries. Those community assets and debts must be divided, too. The court’s ability to exercise jurisdiction over property in another state is rarely problematic. However, Arizona’s exercising jurisdiction over marital property in another country is not so simple. Do the spouses own property in another country?

As with all marriages, the longer the couple is together the more property acquisitions they are likely to have made. You need a legal strategy for dividing community property, retirement plans, military pensions, and other benefits. In part, that is because the USFSPA can have a profound impact on the division of retired military pay in Arizona divorce. But there are other benefits to consider as well, including Survivor Benefit Plan annuities, Thrift Savings Plan retirement options, and military disability benefits.

Experience Matters in Arizona Military Divorce

With over six decades of combined legal experience, Stewart Law Group’s legal team handles all aspects of Arizona military divorce. Our attorneys and staff maintain prompt and effective communication with clients, no matter where in the world those clients are stationed. We know how important it is to provide reliable legal services to our troops and their families.

In addition to Arizona military divorce, our attorneys assist clients with a legal separation, paternity establishment, and post-decree modification of child support orders, custody orders, and parenting plans (as with parent relocation or change of legal decision-making and parenting time).

For active duty military and retired military, there are legal nuances in divorce unlike any other. The potential for complications is always there. And because many of the divorce issues, court proceedings, and state and federal laws are unique to service members as parties to a lawsuit, spouses are strongly urged to consult an experienced Phoenix, Arizona attorney.

Contact us today at (602) 548-3400 for our expertise in all divorce matters. Our divorce law offices are located throughout Arizona, in Phoenix, Scottsdale, Chandler, Glendale, Mesa, Peoria, Tempe & Gilbert.

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