From 13 October 1775 to today, the U.S. Navy has defended the seas, patrolled hostile waters, and served as the principal hauler of all the other branches—their equipment, their weapons, and their personnel. Its official website tallies 325,673 active duty men and women serving on, above, next to, and under the water. Some of those Navy men, like men anywhere, face the dissolution of their marriages through divorce. What protections can the U.S. Navy offer its servicemen facing divorce?

Stays and the SCRA

Divorce for any man is seldom easy. It combines just about the worst mix of emotionally wrenching, career-altering, mind-numbing events piled one on top of the other, like waves breaking against your bow.

Combined with military service, divorce becomes even harder. Fortunately, federal law provides protections to sailors facing civil actions, like divorce, while on active duty.

The American Bar Association provides an excellent overview of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), the primary fortification against civil actions while on duty. Through the SCRA, you can delay any legal action either served against you or that you begin, such as divorce. Specifically, three protections are available if your military duty “materially affects” your ability to respond to a civil action:

  1. Court orders cannot be entered against you in your absence
  2. Court hearings involving you can be delayed until your return from active duty
  3. You can be protected from execution of judgments, attachments, and garnishments of your salary

If your wife petitions a Virginia court for divorce and then you ship out, you can have your attorney petition the court to delay the divorce proceedings at least 90 days for the court to comply with 50 U.S. Code § 3931:

(d) Stay of proceedings  In an action covered by this section in which the defendant is in military service, the court shall grant a stay of proceedings for a minimum period of 90 days under this subsection upon application of counsel, or on the court’s own motion, if the court determines that—

(1) there may be a defense to the action and a defense cannot be presented without the presence of the defendant; or

(2) after due diligence, counsel has been unable to contact the defendant or otherwise determine if a meritorious defense exists

Resources for Military Men Facing Divorce

Because the Commonwealth enjoys the presence of so many military men, Virginia’s Attorney General has prepared a free veterans’ legal resource guide, to get you started on knowing the protections available to you as a servicemember. In addition to helpful, general advice on consumer and education issues, the guide does include a tiny portion regarding divorce. Much of what you need to know can also be found in our Men’s Military Divorce Manual.

Perhaps your best resource is the aid of a local, experienced attorney licensed to practice in Virginia. While the Navy JAG Corps can provide limited, free legal advice on many domestic matters — completing a will, signing a lease, filing taxes — the JAG Corps is less experienced with divorce. A helpful list of legal assistance handouts from Navy JAG, specifically for Virginia, does not even include divorce as a topic.

Most sailors prefer the services of a private attorney admitted to the bar of their domicile state and conversant in family law. While the SCRA is a federal protection, each state has flexibility to provide additional protections. In Virginia, SCRA is codified as Code of Virginia § 8.01-15.2.

Since divorce triggers many other legal repercussions, such as new housing arrangements and child custody, the SCRA can be used to protect you with rental agreements, car payments, custody, spousal support, mortgages, and more. The family law attorney with complete knowledge of the SCRA is in a far better position to help you than the Navy JAG Corps.

Divorcing While Out to Sea

What if you want to divorce her? You can proceed with a divorce even if you are out at sea. All you need is a cooperating attorney stateside, able to practice family law in the state of your domicile, like Virginia. You need to be living in the state a minimum of six months to seek a divorce here, but that time can include being stationed on a ship at sea that left from a Virginia home port.

Such a long-distance divorce may not be easy, due to time zone differences, your duty hours, and the legal proceedings requiring your input. Your attorney can handle most aspects of the divorce for you, including process serving, petitioning the court, and gathering evidence (if needed). You and your attorney may go through weeks of asynchronous communications, sending and receiving emails and texts when convenient.

Military Divorce for Navy Men

A telephone call to 757-383-9184 gets you in touch with The Firm For Men and its team of experienced, able-bodied military family law attorneys. We have helped many servicemen, from all branches including the U.S. Navy, get legal help before, during and after deployment. Whether you are deep under the sea in a submarine, wearing a red shirt on a carrier elevator, or tensely toiling as a CTO on a naval base, we can keep you out of hot water (legally) and prevent a greedy spouse from leaving you high and dry.