Suppose your child is ill. You take her down to your local veterinarian, of course, because a doctor’s a doctor, right? Absolutely not, you take her to your pediatrician and listen gratefully to the professional medical advice meant for a child patient. The same is true of attorneys: do you, as a member of the military, go to the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) attorney to handle your military divorce? Absolutely not; you go to an attorney familiar with family law. Here’s why.
JAG is Wonderful!
JAG Corps for any of the military branches is unmatched in its ability to provide excellent legal advice to military members and their families in a few key areas:
- Military Justice — If you face a disciplinary issue in the military, JAG protects the rights of all parties and ensures member and public confidence in the military justice system. Many Americans do not realize military justice is a parallel system of courts, judges and punishments alongside our public legal system.
- Operational Law and Command — Specific to officers and commanders, the JAG will give quick, accurate legal responses in support of military operations and administration.
- Personal, Minor Legal Matters — Confused by a lease? Want someone to look over your automobile purchase contract? Unsure of the conditions of a will? A JAG lawyer can help you through these lighter legal hurdles with ease, because these are not the kinds of legal issues that require hearings, depositions, courts, judges, investigation and outside experts.
JAG is Terrible!
Just as you do not expect your veterinarian to be a great pediatrician, do not expect the excellent military lawyers of JAG Corps to provide up-to-date advice on areas outside their purview:
- Child and spousal abuse
- Charges of adultery, sodomy or buggery (in Virginia)
A JAG attorney can spend an entire career ably serving military members and their families and never once have to deal with a civilian court. Unfamiliarity with civilian law, inability to navigate a civil courtroom, and lack of recognition by a particular Virginia court can all impede a JAG attorney attempting to help you.
But JAG Lawyers are Free!
A JAG attorney is free, which is great, but suppose someone offered you a free elephant? Something can be free but still be of no value or help to you. The JAG attorney can be well-meaning and sympathetic, but still be incapable of handling your case, for several reasons:
- The JAG attorney may not be licensed to practice law in Virginia
- Divorce law is vastly different from military justice
- Your divorce may extend across multiple base assignments in different states, affecting jurisdiction and the exact court in which to file for divorce
- If your wife has spoken with a JAG attorney, that attorney cannot speak to you because of a conflict of interest and attorney/client privilege
- If you have already sought a private attorney’s advice, the JAG lawyer can work in support of the private attorney, but will not supersede your attorney
The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA)
The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act, which is abbreviated USFSPA but is completely unpronounceable in that form, is a federal law specifically designed to deal with dividing military pensions.
We ask a lot of service members, and in return provide generous pensions that can kick in as early as age 45 or so. These pensions are valuable assets in a divorce, and the non-military spouse is entitled to an equitable share of the pension.
A JAG attorney will be able to advise you — or your wife — about the benefits that accrue from the law. Many servicemen do not realize their ex-wives, after a divorce, will still be able to tap:
- Commissary benefits
- Use of the Post exchange
- Health care, including TRICARE, inpatient and outpatient care
This act applies if you served at least 20 years, were married at least 20 years, and the two events — military service and marriage — overlapped by 20 years. This 20/20/20 rule gives your ex-wife full use of all benefits, but an ex-wife who does not meet the requirements loses only the commissary and exchange benefits after the divorce is decreed final.
Putting on the Brakes: Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act (SRCA)
If you are on active duty at the time of a divorce, another federal law can work to help you, JAG attorney or not. If your wife starts the divorce proceedings by having you served with papers while you are on active duty, your civilian attorney will likely invoke the Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act (SRCA) to delay (up to 90 days) any court hearings or motions.
This has the effect of slowing or stopping the clock on the divorce, which can be to your advantage. If you are posted, say, to Thule Air Base in Qaasuitsup, Greenland (coldest U.S. base! Yay!) and your wife is in Virginia, you need a little time to thaw out and stop your teeth chattering long enough to speak with an attorney. SCRA has you covered, no JAG lawyer needed.
A Major Realization … Military Divorce Requires Skill & Experience
Using a private attorney for your military divorce makes so much sense, even the various branch JAG departments will recommend a private attorney to their servicemembers seeking divorce. Many members of the military come to the major realization that divorce is one time where a private outranks a general.
Before deciding to work within the military system of justice or seek outside counsel, please contact The Firm for Men or call us at (757) 383-9184 to speak with an attorney about your military divorce. Our Virginia Beach office is conveniently located just minutes from Norfolk, Chesapeake, Suffolk, and Portsmouth and just a short drive from Hampton or Newport News!