With the number of active and retired military personnel in California, it's a frequent issue as to what will happen in the event of a military divorce. Since being in the military is a different world than life as a civilian, when a marriage ends -- many may be confused as to how military laws affect a divorce. Understanding important facts can smooth the process and prevent any surprises as the divorce proceeding moves forward for service members.
Military commanders don't generally get in the middle of a divorce proceeding. It's left to the civilian courts. The military member and a spouse will have access to legal assistance free of charge through the installation. Advice will be provided such as how to handle children, medical benefits, survivor benefits and other important issues. If one spouse is on active duty, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is in place to ensure that military obligations won't result in a problem when it comes to the divorce. For example, if the deployed spouse is unable to appear because of the deployment, there can be a stay granted in the divorce proceeding. The deployed spouse will receive a stay of at least 90 days.
Spouses are granted benefits after a divorce based on the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act. This has to do with the ability of the former spouse to still receive medical care through the military. Privileges may include being admitted onto the base to shop for groceries and personal items, and retirement pay. The eligibility after a divorce depends on several factors including the amount of time the couple was married and how long the service member spouse was in the military.
For a couple that was married for 20 years to a 20 year service member -- and the service and marriage overlapped for 20 years -- the 20/20/20 rule will be in effect to grant the non-military spouse full military benefits. The 20/20/15 rule has the same attributes as 20/20/20, but with a 15-year overlap. There will be medical coverage for a year and no installation privileges.
Being in the military can be a difficult transition for families, but the number of military divorces has been declining. That fact doesn't preclude the challenges of a military life. Those who are considering divorce need to know how to handle the changes and may want to discuss the matter with a qualified legal professional.