The Differences Between Military and Civilian Divorce

Military and Civilian Divorce—The Differences

If you and/or your spouse are active duty service-members in the armed forces of the United States, there are specific issues you need to consider before and during a divorce proceeding:

  • Where to file for divorce
  • How custody and visitation will be affected, particularly if one party is at a permanent duty station across the country or around the world
  • How child and/or spousal support will be determined
  • The respective rights to military pension and other military benefits

The Location of Your Filing

You can only file a divorce complaint in a court that has “jurisdiction.” Jurisdiction in state courts, where divorce actions are filed, is determined on a state-by-state basis. There is typically a residency requirement, both for the state and for the county in which you file. The residency requirement usually applies to either party. So, for example, if you live in one state and your spouse lives in another, you may be able to file in either state, if you meet the jurisdictional requirements.

Custody and Visitation

The principal challenge affecting custody and visitation in military divorce is the potential for deployment of any parent on active duty. All branches of the armed services have specific rules that address situations where a sole caregiver (or both parents) are subject to deployment. In this situation, the parent(s) must have what is known as a Family Care Plan, identifying who will care for a minor child in the event of a deployment.

Another factor that can have an impact on custody in military divorces is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which may be used by military personnel to delay or postpone custody hearings and determinations until the servicemember can be present.

Support Issues

Under military rules, active duty personnel must comply with support, custody and visitation orders or face serious consequences, including discharge. There can also be complications in applying the formula (typically established by the state) to military pay, as service members often have many different components to their pay, from base pay to housing allowance to hazardous duty pay to in-kind compensation, such as food or housing.

Military Pensions and Other Benefits

There are specific rules for allocating military pension benefits. A civilian spouse must have been married to the servicemember for a minimum number of years, and those years must coincide with military service. A civilian spouse who qualifies may take a lump sum distribution or wait until the servicemember retires.

Contact the Law Office of Len Conner & Associates

At the Law Office of Len Conner Associates, we offer a free initial consultation in all family law matters, including issues relating to divorce. Send us an e-mail or call our office at (972) 445-1500 or 972-445-1500 if you’re in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Or call us toll free at (877) 613-5800 for an appointment.


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