According to provisional data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 630,000 couples filed for divorce in the U.S. in 2020 alone. Divorce is not an uncommon occurrence. However, some couples need to approach the divorce process in relatively unique ways. For example, suppose one or both spouses are active servicemembers in the U.S. Armed Forces. In that case, the divorce process goes somewhat differently than it does for couples comprised of purely civilian spouses.
Military divorce is a unique process because distinct legal protections, opportunities, and resources are provided to servicemembers navigating the divorce process. Not so long ago, servicemembers ran the risk that if their spouse filed for divorce while deployed, they might not have received their divorce paperwork soon enough to file a proper response. Similarly, servicemembers faced discrimination in child custody cases, as the assumption was that having a parent at risk of future deployments wasn’t in a child’s best interests.
Thanks to the evolution of civilian family law and safeguards implemented specifically to benefit servicemembers, the military divorce process is far more just than it used to be. Military divorce tends to be a complex scenario – one of the reasons why it is advisable for active servicemembers and military spouses to seek legal counsel before filing for divorce – but it is a fairer process than it has been historically.
Texas Military Divorce Lawyer
If you are a member of the military and have been properly served with divorce papers, you are probably feeling overwhelmed. Military divorces are no different than non-military regarding the issues that need to be resolved: child support, property division, and spousal support all must be addressed in the parties’ marital settlement agreement. To have an experienced divorce attorney who can help you navigate this process with ease, contact Horak Law.
Matthew Horak at Horak Law is a dedicated family law attorney who has thorough understanding of military divorce laws. He can provide you with guidance. Call (713) 225-8000 to arrange a free consultation today.
Horak Law has offices in The Woodlands and Houston, TX.
- What Is The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act?
- What Is The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act?
- Child Custody Concerns
- Additional Resources
Both service members and military spouses should become well-informed about the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) before filing for divorce. Making this effort will help to ensure that both spouses can make genuinely informed decisions about their divorce process. Essentially, the SCRA safeguards servicemembers from certain legal and financial risks while serving in uniform. This law applies to active-duty military members of the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy. It also applies to active-duty reservists, National Guard members who have been mobilized per federal orders for more than thirty days consecutively, and active-duty C.O.s of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Public Health Service.
The primary safeguard that the SCRA affords servicemembers in divorce cases is protection against default judgments in civil cases. If a qualifying servicemember spouse cannot properly answer and defend against a divorce petition while engaged in service, then the court must extend the timeframe for that servicemember’s divorce case. Ordinarily, when a divorce petition remains unanswered, the court hands down a default judgment in favor of the petitioning spouse. Thanks to the SCRA, allowances need to be made so that the servicemember has a reasonable amount of time and access to resources that will allow them to answer and defend against their spouse’s divorce petition properly.
Just as the law extends special protections to active servicemembers, it also safeguards the rights of military spouses in specific ways. The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA) is a federal law that allows former spouses of active servicemembers to receive specific benefits under certain circumstances.
Generally, former spouses of active servicemembers remain eligible for these benefits unless they remarry. They must also meet the “20/20/20 rule” to qualify for medical, exchange, commissary, and movie theater privileges per the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation program. The 20/20/20 rule allows for these benefits provided that former spouses of active servicemembers who haven’t remarried were married to their military servicemember spouse for at least twenty years, their spouse performed at least twenty years of service creditable in eligibility for retirement pay, and they were married to that spouse for at least twenty years of that creditable service.
Although seeking these benefits does not necessarily need to be a part of one’s formal marital dissolution process, eligible former spouses need to speak with an attorney about applying for these valuable benefits when planning for their future financial needs.
The same safeguards concerning time to respond and proper access to the legal process that applies to divorce petitions under the SCRA also apply to child custody petition issues. If a service member isn’t married and their child’s other parent petitions the court for a modification of child custody or child support, the protections afforded by the SCRA will help to ensure that the servicemember has sufficient time to respond to that modification request.
Servicemembers and civilian spouses must understand that all contentious child custody disputes are resolved according to state law, not federal law. Therefore, it matters where a child’s parents choose to file for divorce or a child custody order. Each spouse should carefully review their home state’s laws with a knowledgeable attorney before filing in that jurisdiction.
It is also important to understand that combination servicemember and civilian parents are subject to the same best interests of the child standard that purely civilian couples must navigate. Essentially, this means that if a child’s parents disagree about where their child should reside, with whom their child should reside, or any other term of a child custody or parenting agreement contract, then a judge will resolve the dispute according to the proposal that they believe meets the best interests of the affected child.
No one likes to leave their fate to a judge. It is even less desirable to leave a child’s fate to a judge. Therefore, when possible, it is generally better for parents to try and work to resolve their differences with the assistance of an attorney instead of bringing their irreconcilable differences before a judge.
Managing the Divorce Process – This resource, published by the U.S. Department of Defense’s “Military OneSource,” discusses the management of the divorce process during active service.
Military Divorce: Why Where You File Matters – This Military.com resource discusses the implications of filing for divorce in various jurisdictions.
Houston Military Divorce Lawyer | Harris County, TX
If you need a military divorce attorney in Harris County or any of the surrounding areas, consider Horak Law. Due to the fact that military divorces present unique situations and predicaments that are not relevant to a civilian divorce, it’s important that your Texas divorce attorney be highly familiar with military divorce proceedings. Attorney Matthew Horak at Horak Law has over a decade of experience helping Texans navigate the military divorce process.
Call Horak Law today at (713) 225-8000 or submit an online contact form to schedule your first consultation. Horak Law has two locations in Houston and The Woodlands, but attorney Horak also accepts clients in Harris County, Montgomery County, Brazoria County, Galveston County, Waller County, Fort Bend County, and Liberty County, Texas.