If you are a service member or military spouse, consult with an experienced military divorce attorney at James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates before you file or respond to a divorce petition. Serving your country is a noble task, but the grind of the military lifestyle can negatively impact a marriage. However, military service can complicate your divorce. We’re here to help.
How Is Military Divorce Different From Civilian Divorce?
The Baltimore area has a high percentage of military families, due to its proximity to the U.S. Naval Academy, Fort Meade, Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Fort Detrick, and other military installations. While military service people are bound by military law, you cannot file for divorce in a military court. Instead, you must file for divorce in a state court that holds jurisdiction.
The grounds for military and civilian divorce are the same in Maryland. However, you must meet residency requirements — which vary depending on your circumstances. If you need help understanding whether you are eligible for a Maryland divorce, contact a military divorce attorney for guidance.
Additionally, there are special rules that apply to military divorces. Importantly, the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act lets service members postpone divorce and other proceedings while they are on active duty and for up to 60 days afterward. This postponement gives the service member time to review the petition, hire a military divorce attorney, and respond appropriately. However, the active duty service member can waive this right, if he or she wants the divorce to proceed.
Finally, if your spouse is on active duty, you might have difficulty serving your divorce petition. Simply filing for divorce is not enough — you must properly deliver the divorce papers to your spouse. At James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates, we have extensive experience handling military divorces. We will ensure that your petition is properly drafted, served, and your rights are fully protected. Contact us for more information.
Military Pensions, Retirement Pay, and Divorce
In a divorce, the spouses must divide their marital property and debts. Maryland is an equitable distribution state. In other words, your property isn’t simply divided 50/50. Instead, the court assesses a variety of factors when dividing property and decides what seems fair under your circumstances. However, additional rules apply to military pensions and retirement pay.
Military retirement pay and pensions typically are marital property. However, the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) limits a state’s jurisdiction over pensions and other military benefits. Typically, you must file for divorce in the state where the service person resides. Otherwise, the court cannot divide his or her military pension during your divorce.
Once you file for divorce in the correct state, the USFSPA also dictates how the military pensions are distributed. A military spouse is eligible for a direct payment of his or her spouse’s military pension if:
- The service member has at least ten creditable military service years, and
- The military couple was married for at least ten creditable military service years.
Ex-spouses that qualify for direct payment will receive payments from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS). If you do not meet the “10/10 rule,” you must collect pension payments from your ex-spouse. This is a more complex process. It therefore typically requires assistance from an experienced military divorce attorney.
Your military divorce attorney will also help you address each spouse’s right to military retirement payments and survivors’ benefits. These issues involve a complicated analysis. Without the guidance of a skilled lawyer, you might lose valuable benefits.
Child Custody and Visitation in a Military Divorce
Ideally, you and your spouse will negotiate a child custody and visitation agreement that clearly addresses deployment, relocation, and other military-related issues. If you and your spouse cannot agree on child custody and visitation, the judge will consider the best interests of the child. While the “best interests” analysis is complex in a civilian divorce, issues of deployment and relocation make child custody in a military divorce even more difficult. While Maryland’s child custody laws grant military parents some protections, make sure you consult with an experienced military divorce attorney before finalizing a child custody agreement. And, if your situation changes, you can consider petitioning the court for a modified child support order or temporary custody.
Additionally, Maryland laws limit the amount of child support deductions from a military service member’s pay and allowances. Since military pay structures can be complex, it’s always in your best interest to consult with an experienced military divorce attorney at James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates. We can help you compute your child support payments under the Maryland Child Support Guidelines — and assess whether the court might deviate from the guidelines in your case.
Speak With a Baltimore Military Divorce Lawyer
If you need to speak with a military divorce attorney, contact James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates. We understand and honor the sacrifices that military families make. Moreover, we will protect you and your family’s interests while guiding you through the complicated interplay between state and federal laws involved in a military divorce. Consultations are free and confidential.