Difference Between A Military Divorce & A Civilian Divorce


The biggest difference between a military divorce and a civilian divorce is obviously that either one spouse, or both of the spouses are currently serving (or at some point did serve) in the military. Of course, divorces are ultimately controlled by state law and whichever state you're filing in is going to dictate the divorce law that applies. However, with military members, you can have specific jurisdictional issues and residency requirements when determining where to file and when to file. You can have military justice issues. When you have allegations of domestic violence, child abuse, or adultery, which is a crime under UCMJ, you certainly want your divorce lawyer to be familiar with the military justice system.

In military divorces, there are a lot of additional considerations that most civilian family law practitioners are not as well versed in as those who have served in the military, or those that have chosen to devote a large part of their practice to military divorce. For instance, there are specific regulations on how to divide a thrift savings plan. There's the specific procedures on how and when to ensure the equitable division of a military retirement, which oftentimes, is the largest asset in someone's marital estate. The rules and regulations that go along with that are critical to effectively handling a military divorce.

Additionally, military divorces are different because deployments and temporary duty assignments (TDYs) have the potential to affect child custody considerations. Alabama actually has a specific statute that's meant to protect military members from having their service to this country harm their ability to raise their kids and be considered as a primary placement or sole physical custodian. Clearly a military member involved in a divorce with these issues is going to need a good military divorce lawyer to deal with the specific issues of deployments and temporary duties taking a military member away from their family. Many of these issues could be very important considerations in a divorce or child custody case. If you haven't lived through that, you may not understand the difference between a TDY, and a permanent change of station, and you certainly do not really comprehend how hard deployments can be on a family. These intricate issues are the things that someone going through a military divorce needs their lawyer to understand completely.

Do We Need A Reason To File For Military Divorce?

A divorce is only a military divorce because one, or both of the spouses, happens to be a military member. It’s still just a divorce, as far as your individual state is concerned. The reasons that you would need to file for divorce from a military member are the same as the reasons for any other divorce. Maybe you don't get along anymore. Perhaps someone has cheated or become abusive. All of those issues that can cause the breakdown of a marriage are the same in a military marriage as they are in a civilian one. The difference is you want a military divorce lawyer, who knows about all of the intricacies of military life and the interplay between federal statutes, state statutes, military service, and the potential impact upon the divorce proceedings.

Is There A Required Waiting Period In a Military Divorce?

Whether or not there is a waiting or separation period required in a divorce depends on which state the divorce is filed. For example, North Carolina (where I served as an assistant judge advocate at Pope Air Force Base) requires a separation period; Alabama does not. Determining if there is a waiting period in a specific state is one of the criteria you will want your military divorce lawyer to consider before choosing a state to file the divorce (if you are in a situation where a choice of an individual state is possible due to the parties’ military service).

What Is The Process To File For A Military Divorce?

To file for a military divorce (or a civilian divorce), in Alabama, you file your complaint and you allege the grounds, be it an irretrievable breakdown, which is “no fault” grounds, or you allege fault, such as adultery or cruelty. There's a statute that lists all the possible grounds for divorce in Alabama. After you have your spouse served, they have 30 days to respond. From that point, you go through the discovery period of depositions, interrogatories, requests for productions, and requests for admissions.

Where I practice, which is primarily in Huntsville, Alabama, if it's going to be a fully litigated trial, you're looking at a trial date six months away, at the earliest. Usually, it will be closer to a year, or a year and a half before you are reached on a trial docket. When you get to a trial docket and you have your day (or days) before the judge, the judge will issue an order and then will give you a final divorce decree. At that point, you will finally be legally divorced from your spouse.

That is the contested route. There is also the much quicker process of an uncontested divorce. An uncontested divorce is right for you if you and your spouse are in agreement on your military divorce and you have all of the issues worked out, such as division of military retirement, division of the TSP, alimony, child custody, child support and an equitable division of the assets and debts. If that agreement is provided to me, I will file it and the judge is supposed to get you a final decree of divorce within 30 days. Uncontested divorces are much cheaper, much quicker, and much simpler. I often tell clients that the only certain winners in full blown litigated divorce trials are the lawyers. However, sometimes an uncontested divorce is impossible due to hurt feelings and raw emotions as the process begins but as time passes even a contested divorce can settle as an uncontested divorce at some point in the process once “cooler heads prevail.”

For more information on Military Divorce Vs. Civilian Divorce In AL an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (256)533-8074 today.