Divorce is generally handled under the law of the state where the spouses live. This means if the parties lived in Arizona during the marriage, they must divide their property under Arizona’s community property laws, they must work out their child custody under Arizona’s child custody laws and so on.
But marriages in which one or both spouses is in the military have some special considerations. For one thing, military personnel must frequently move across the country or even overseas, complicating the matter of what state law applies.
A major concern in any military divorce involves benefits. Many military families depend on military benefits, including health care benefits, retirement benefits and, in some cases, installation housing. In any divorce involving a person in the military, these must be handled with care. The following are some important points to remember:
- Health care: In a divorce, a civilian spouse will typically lose their TRICARE health care benefits, but the Department of Defense’s Continued Health Care Benefit program allows them purchase coverage for up to 36 months. Children of a service member can generally keep their coverage until age 21 — age 23 if they are still in college.
- Spousal support and child support: Even if the state court does not require a military service member to pay spousal support or child support in divorce, their military branch may have rules requiring them to do so.
- Housing and moving: A civilian spouse who lives in military housing typically must move out within 30 days after their service member spouse moves out of the housing in a divorce. If a civilian spouse has been living overseas due to the service member spouse’s duty, the military may pay for the civilian’s moving costs in returning to the United States.
- Retirement pay: In cases involving longer marriages, the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Act provides certain benefits to ex-spouses of service members. These may include some division of retirement pay and retirement accounts as well as health care benefits and continued use of military exchanges.
The armed forces supply some legal counseling to service members, but both service members and civilian spouses should learn all they can about their rights and options in divorce.