Preparation is useful in any divorce scenario. After all, the more information you have at your disposal, the easier it can be to navigate the challenges of the situation. Good prep is particularly vital, though, if you’re facing a divorce where one or both parties are active service members of the military.
This is because there’s an added level of complexity involved, with difficulties surrounding aspects such as residence, custody, and even division of assets. As a man going through a divorce in Florida, you also want to make certain that you are not unfairly treated by the family courts either as a result of your commitment to military service or because your spouse has more resources due to their service.
Collaborating with an experienced family law attorney is essential in these matters. They’ll help you to better understand the hurdles you might face as you proceed toward a final divorce agreement. They’ll also have the knowledge to ensure you don’t overlook any fundamental elements. Nevertheless, let’s take a moment to run through a military divorce checklist of how to prepare.
Check Out Military-Specific Laws
Divorce can be a pretty complex legal process. When the military factor comes into play, it can be even more intricate. Some of the laws and protocols that apply to civilian divorces are not always quite the same when one or both spouses are active service members. Therefore, it’s vital to work with your experienced family law attorney to understand what regulations might apply to your specific circumstances. Some elements you should consider include:
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
One of the most relevant military-specific laws that can impact divorces is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Effectively, this is a federal law that aims to provide additional protections to people that are active-duty military members. Perhaps the most common application of the SCRA in the context of divorces is if the proceedings are occurring while the service member spouse is away on deployment that prevents them from fully participating in the divorce court proceedings. In these instances, they can request a stay — or postponement — of the process until they return. It’s important to check whether the SCRA is relevant to the circumstances of your case, so you can make arrangements.
The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA)
Another piece of legislation that may come into play during the divorce process relates to military pensions. Though one spouse may be the recipient of a military pension, this doesn’t necessarily mean the other isn’t entitled to a proportion of it. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) is a federal law that enables family courts to treat military disposable retired pay as marital property. In Florida, this means that the court can include this as an asset when aiming to establish equitable division between both parties.
Establish the Appropriate Jurisdiction
When it comes to military divorces, residency and jurisdiction can add an additional layer of complexity. After all, it’s not unusual for military members and families to find themselves stationed in different states or even countries. This might lead to a certain amount of uncertainty about where to file for divorce and what state legislation might apply to the process. An experienced divorce attorney will be able to provide you with advice on where you should file and how this might impact your case.
If you’re planning on filing for divorce in Florida, there are some residence requirements you’ll need to abide by. Florida law states that at least one of the parties involved in the divorce should be a legal resident of the state for at least six months before filing. If you’ve been part of a military family stationed in Florida, this is usually pretty straightforward. However, if you’ve been living elsewhere for some time before moving to Florida or your residency in the state has been interrupted by a long deployment, establishing residency can be more complicated.
The good news is that there are provisions designed to address this. In particular, the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act (MSRRA) effectively enables military members to claim Florida as their residence in some circumstances, even if they’ve been stationed elsewhere. This legislation only applies, though, if the military spouse had been a legal resident of the state prior to the station move. Neither spouse can simply decide to claim Florida as their home state simply because it offers preferable divorce methods to where they’re currently stationed. That said, understanding the terms of the MSRAA empowers you to retain your rights to divorce in your home state despite the unpredictability of military life.
Assess the Military Benefits
Another important point of focus for your checklist is the assets that are specific to military families. Whether you’re an active service member or a spouse, you should know that the benefits the military offers have significant value. It’s important to gain a full understanding of what these items are and how they feature in the divorce agreement.
Some of the elements that can be important when preparing a divorce include:
- Military pension: This is usually handled under the aforementioned USFSPA alongside the division of other marital assets. It generally is based on the value of “disposable retired pay”, which is the pension amount minus any deductions for court martial forfeitures and other penalties. In some instances, this can be paid to the non-military spouse directly by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), but only if you’ve been married for more than 10 years and the agreed division is 50% or under. Otherwise, there will need to be a private payment arrangement directly between the spouses.
- Healthcare entitlement and health insurance: Healthcare as a benefit holds significant value and it’s important to recognize that it should form part of any divorce agreement. In most cases, the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP) enables a former military spouse to continue using service health care for up to 3 years. However, it’s also vital to consider what the arrangements are for contributing to health insurance beyond this.
- Housing allowance: Some military members receive Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), which contributes to the cost of a home if the family isn’t residing in government quarters. The non-military spouse cannot receive this directly. However, it can be considered as for the purposes of division of assets, alimony, or child support. Therefore, it’s important to have a good understanding of how much BAH is received as you prepare to build a divorce agreement.
Child custody is one of the most emotionally and practically difficult aspects of any divorce. As with so much else, when one of the parents is active service military, this can further complicate matters.
Perhaps the most prevalent challenge in military divorces is the potential for deployments. It’s not unusual for parents in the military to frequently relocate or to head out on extended deployments. Naturally, this can affect child custody arrangements. In the vast majority of cases, the Florida courts will seek to prioritize the best interests of the child, often favoring a parent who presents stability, rather than the unpredictable nature of military service life.
When preparing your checklist, it’s important to get ahead of the curve here, rather than leave the decision down to the courts. Collaborate with your experienced family law attorney to develop tailored plans for a fair division of custody, including contingencies should one parent need to move away or be deployed. It’s also wise to include arrangements for regular and meaningful contact during deployment, such as scheduled phone and video calls. You might also consider the potential for extended temporary custody after a deployment to make up for lost time.
Wherever possible, aim to start discussing arrangements with your former spouse as soon as possible in the divorce process. An amicable agreement on division of custody often makes it easier to navigate the nuances of military life and put your child’s interests first. Even if there’s some animosity, open communication and a willingness for flexibility can ensure solid relationships with both parents.
Call The Family Law Attorneys Men Trust (813) 415-3510
In Law We Trust Divorce and Family Lawyers is a premier firm of divorce lawyers representing men in family law proceedings. We have years of experience representing men who are navigating military divorces, including the nuances of asset division and child custody. Our team’s experience and skills help to guide our clients through the hurdles of the Florida family law courts. Call us today and get the proper representation men need and deserve.
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