The American Institute of Stress1 courteously points out that divorce is the second-most stressful thing you can do (second only to having your spouse die). We even have a standardized measurement tool for stress: The Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory, which gives a 73 out of 100 to divorce. For less than that amount of stress from only the one event, you could simultaneously get a ticket for jaywalking, have trouble with your boss, and take on a mortgage. What happens when you compound the stress of divorce with serving in the military? Here is your stress-relieving guide to filing for divorce as a military servicemember.
The Challenges of Military Divorce
Divorcing as a military man is challenging because your life is not completely your own. Your residence, domicile and stationing may all be beyond your control. This compounds your difficulties, because divorce in Virginia is not an overnight process. By the time your separation reaches its required duration (six months with no children; a year with children), you may have been sent off to parts unknown.
Because of the challenges of a military divorce in Virginia, your first step must be to retain an experienced law firm completely versed in military procedures. Some military servicemen are tempted to contact their branch’s JAG group responsible for legal matters:
- U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps
- U.S. Marine Corps Judge Advocate Division
- U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps
- U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps
- U.S. Coast Guard Legal Division
Such a contact would be a mistake. While these JAG corps and divisions are great at military law, they are not highly trained to handle domestic issues, such as divorce, separation or custody disputes. Further, they are unfamiliar with local Virginia laws, courts, and judges. A local, reliable civilian firm is a much better choice.
Comfortingly, hiring an attorney does not even register on the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory, as soothing as getting a nice foot rub. Niiice …
Know the Difference Between Domicile and Residence
Make certain you know where you live. No, really, we mean it. Your residency and domicile are two different concepts in the military. Residency is where you live now, whether on base, in an apartment near your base, or on a destroyer at sea. Domicile is where you plan to stay permanently. Virginia can be your residence, domicile, and state of legal residence (SLR) for purposes of your divorce, but check with your attorney to clarify exactly what your status is (or, have you downloaded our military divorce guide for men?) Only if you or your spouse are Virginia residents can you file for divorce in Virginia.
And where does “change of residence” fall on the ol’ Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory? #32, at a score of 20/100!
Collect All Your Paperwork
Collect everything, every statement, record and deposit ticket for any financial accounts you have set up as a consequence of your military service. These are important in assessing the value of your disposable retired pay, even if you have another 15 years of service ahead of you. Your ex-wife will be able to take a chunk of that retirement pay, so you need to have exact numbers for your attorney.
Make copies of every financial record and turn them over to your local civilian attorney. These documents can be used to help freeze your ex-wife’s portion at an amount set by the court, even if you are on active duty and are not present for the ruling.
(Incidentally, retirement is #10 on the stress scale, with a score of 45/100.)
Filing for Divorce While Deployed
Suppose you are overseas. Now suppose you want to file for divorce while deployed. Go ahead, use your attorney; so long as you have legal residency in Virginia, your attorney can file for you. Because of time and distance, you and your attorney may have to work a little harder to get each step done, but the divorce itself follows the same steps as a civilian getting a divorce.
Uncontested divorces — those built off property settlement agreements — are ideal candidates for military men on overseas deployment.
You might not consider your deployment a vacation; if you do, you’ll be glad to know vacations rank 49th out of 50 on the Giant Stress Thermometer (nobody calls it that — editor), at only 13/100.
Legal Protection for Military Servicemembers
As a military man based out of Virginia (whether Virginia is your post, domicile or legal residence), you are protected against once-common tactics:
- Being divorced without knowing it
- Being strung along through endless delaying tactics
- Having negative legal actions taken against you while you are stationed on foreign shores
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) permits a Virginia judge to postpone proceedings in a divorce up throughout the time active-duty servicemembers are on duty. Each branch maintains helpful information about this protection; for example, the Army’s site points out additional benefits accruing to active-duty Army soldiers.
A call to The Firm For Men at 757-383-9184, or contacting us online, will connect you with helpful attorneys highly trained to handle military service members’ divorces, custody issues, and more. Please make The Firm For Men your first call, and feel the stress melt away.