Military spouses are a very special breed of people.  They proudly support their spouses as they serve in the military, essentially serving the country in their own way, while still meeting the challenges of marriage and family.

You may have managed a household and raised your children alone while your spouse was deployed for extended periods of time. You are correct if you feel that your sacrifices as a military dependent deserve recognition. Now that your marriage is ending, it is important to know what rights you have and what you can do to rebuild your life.

Rights for Military Spouses

Divorce is a difficult process for everyone. It takes both an emotional and financial toll on your life. You may be left with many questions about what to do and how to plan for the future. As a military spouse, you receive certain benefits from the military. Many issues need to be resolved such as whether or not you will be entitled to support during separation, if and how long you can stay in military housing, if any of your benefits will continue after divorce, including any right to a portion of the military retirement. You need the assistance of a skilled local divorce lawyer experienced in military divorce to help you sort through the complicated business of military divorce.

Custody of Your Children

As a parent, your primary concern is the care and well-being of your children. If your spouse is active military, they may be deployed for long periods of time overseas and in active war zones. You may have a compelling argument that the best interests of the children is served by you having full custody (called “residential placement” in Washington).

Financial Support

Military regulations require a service member to provide financial support to spouses and children upon separation. Especially if your spouse earns more money than you, they may be required to provide financial or spousal support in addition to the child support required by state law.

Full Military Benefits

If you have been married for twenty years or more of their military service, you are entitled to full continuing military health benefits, as well as continuing access to military commissary and exchanges.

If you obtain employer-provided health care, military health benefits cease. However, you will regain military health benefits if employer-provided health care ceases. Similarly, if you remarry, all the above-mentioned military benefits cease. However, if you get divorced again, then you are once again entitled to full military benefits.

If you and your spouse obtain a Legal Separation, but do not get divorced, you will continue to receive full married military benefits. You may also be entitled to additional financial support.

Temporary Military Benefits

If you have been married for twenty years, fifteen of which covered your spouse’s military service, you are entitled to health benefits for one year.

Retirement and Disability Benefits

Like civilian retirement plans, military retirement plans are considered community property in the state of Washington. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act (USFSPA) allows for military retirement benefits to be divided as property during a divorce.

It is important to note that a recent Supreme Court ruling has determined that state courts cannot require a military service member to indemnify a former spouse for lost military retired pay due to the service member’s election to receive disability benefits.  Essentially that means that the monthly income that a retired military member elects to take in the form of VA disability is off-the-table in the division of assets and community property.  Because these funds may be an important part of the division of your marital assets, it is important to discuss this issue with your attorney and plan accordingly.

If you were married for ten or more years during your spouse’s military service, then you are entitled to receive any portion of the retirement benefits awarded to you in divorce directly from the government (DFAS). It is important to understand that no matter what property division is decided during the divorce, you will not receive any portion of the retirement benefits until your former spouse actually retires.

Survivor Benefits Plan

Even after a divorce, you can remain the beneficiary of your spouse’s Survivor Benefits Plan. As part of the division of property, it can be negotiated in the divorce to keep you as the beneficiary.

Domestic Violence

If a service member is court-martialed or administratively separated from service due to abuse, the service member’s spouse and family members can obtain temporary benefits and compensation, such as housing, healthcare, access to commissary and exchange facilities, and temporary financial support. The degree of benefits and support depends on the remaining service obligations of the offending service member. Qualifying offenses against a spouse or family members include assault, battery, rape, sexual assault, murder, and manslaughter.

Helping Military Spouses in Divorce

Divorces of military members are not handled by military lawyers.  Your divorce must be processed through a local state court.  The appropriate court to be used is determined by your residence and/or location at the time the divorce is initiated, or sometimes by the location of the children.

At Morris-Sockle we pride ourselves on serving our military families stationed at Joint Base Lewis McCord and other surrounding installations.  Our years of experience in state divorce law and military regulations will help us guide you through the divorce process.  We will work to help you understand and overcome the special challenges that face military spouses in a divorce.

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