What Is The Difference Between a Civilian and Military Divorce Attorney?

On February 26, 2024

Servicemembers Face Unique Challenges All The Time. Divorce Can Be One Of Them.

A military divorce attorney doesn’t have to wear a uniform, be an active-duty servicemember, or be a veteran. However, an excellent military divorce attorney must have the specialized knowledge and experience to navigate the unique laws, rules, and issues involved in a military divorce. The Colorado Springs military divorce lawyers at Perkins Law are intimately familiar with the ins and outs of these divorce scenarios. 

Even a seasoned civilian divorce attorney may not know how to navigate the complex waters of a military divorce if they don’t regularly work on these cases. Not only are the laws and precedents of a military divorce different from a civilian divorce, but the nature of life in uniform can present challenges civilians do not face. 

Sudden deployments and relocation, complicated benefit programs, housing, insurance, and VA matters – these can all come into play in a military divorce. Among other matters, child support and spousal asset division are also complicated when it comes to being engaged in a military divorce.

For years, the lawyers of Perkins Law in Colorado Springs have worked with active and retired servicemembers and civilian spouses across the Pikes Peak region to help them reach fair outcomes that allow their families to move forward with confidence. 

Here is what we have learned about the critical differences between lawyers who only handle civilian divorces and an experienced military divorce attorney.

Military Divorce Attorneys Know Military Divorce Law

The differences between a civilian divorce attorney and a military divorce attorney boil down to their understanding of the law. A civilian divorce attorney understands the laws of a civilian divorce, while a military divorce lawyer understands both Colorado and federal laws. The military divorce attorney specializes in the laws designed to address the unique challenges facing divorcing servicemembers. 

The federal Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act (“USFSPA”), which applies to all military divorces. This federal Act ensures that the procedures of the state where the divorce occurs will apply to all matters in divorces such as child support, child custody, and visitation, spousal maintenance payments, and asset protection. This federal law adds a layer of complexity that civilian divorce attorneys typically do not encounter.

Not only can the USFSPA complicate a divorce, but the Act can impact whether the civilian/non-military spouse is entitled to the military spouse’s pay. The guidelines in the USFSPA do not automatically entitle a former spouse to the member’s retired pay as part of the divorce settlement.

A Military Divorce Attorney Understands Deployments

A military deployment is not the same as an extended business trip for a civilian. Military couples often live far apart for long periods of time or frequently move between states. Situations such as these can make it complicated to determine where to properly file for divorce and impact the timing of the case. 

Suppose a divorce attorney does not understand how deployments affect these challenging cases. This can cause significant problems for the divorcing couple and prevent the case from moving forward in a timely manner. 

At least one spouse must be a Colorado resident for a Colorado court to have jurisdiction to hear a divorce case. The state listed on a servicemember’s Leave and Earnings Statement (LES) will also be considered their state of residency. 

For a divorce to be appropriately filed in Colorado, the service member must also have other signs of residency, such as a Colorado driver’s license or vaild voter registration. Being stationed at a base in Colorado, such as Ft. Carson in Colorado Springs, is not enough to qualify as a resident.

A civilian is considered a resident if they have the same qualifications of residency described above. They must have also been living in the state for a minimum of 90 days before filing the divorce petition.

Read More: What To Do If You Are Served with Divorce Papers While Deployed in the Military

A Military Divorce Attorney Understands SCRA Legalities

Like other civil lawsuits, a divorce cannot proceed unless the defendant (in this case, the spouse who did not file for divorce) is appropriately served with the divorce papers and allowed to respond and participate in the case

. The Federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) was created to address the difficulties and burdens of deployment and how they affect a servicemember’s ability to deal with a lawsuit.

The SCRA protects the legal rights of servicemembers while deployed, including their rights during the divorce. The federally-enforced SCRA protections apply to active duty members, reservists, and National Guardsmen who have been called into service for more than 30 sequential days. 

Given the complexities of filing for divorce or being served with divorce papers while on active duty, the SCRA allows servicemembers to request a 90-day stay of proceedings or until they can respond. The judge presiding over the divorce can extend that period if circumstances warrant, which means that a divorce could be on hold for several months before moving forward.

A Military Divorce Attorney Appreciates How Deployments Affect Child Custody Issues

Military divorce attorneys must also anticipate and address how a custodial parent’s deployment affects child custody and visitation issues to ensure that parenting arrangements remain in the child’s best interests despite the complexities of military service. 

Civilian divorce lawyers may not appreciate the implications of deployment on parenting plans, visitation schedules, and communication between parents.

Read More: 3 Tips for Choosing the Best Divorce Lawyer in Colorado Springs

A Military Divorce Attorney Understands How Military Pensions, TRICARE, and Retirement Benefits Are Handled In a Divorce

The division of assets and benefits poses unique challenges in military divorces. Military divorce attorneys must grapple with the intricacies of dividing military pensions, healthcare benefits, and housing allowances. They need to understand how these benefits are calculated and distributed, which requires expertise beyond the scope of civilian divorce cases

In the state of Colorado, the court systems use the Hunt/Gallo formula to divide military pensions and retirement benefits. This specific formula divides the number of months the spouses were married while one was in the service by the total months of service at the time of their retirement.

Other circumstances can impact how a court will treat military retirement benefits, which is another reason you should hire a military divorce lawyer to protect your interests.

The “20/20/20” rule governs the distribution of TRICARE benefits, commissary and base exchange benefits, base privileges, VA services, and thrift savings in a military divorce. For a military spouse to continue using these benefits after divorce, all of the following must be the case:

  • Marriage must have lasted at least 20 years;
  • The servicemember must have been in the service for at least 20 consecutive years, and 
  • The 20 years of the marriage must overlap with 20 years of the spouse’s military service.

Additional complicating factors apply to these benefits, which a military divorce attorney can sort through. Contact a Colorado Springs military divorce attorney to better understand these complexities.  

Don’t Make Mistakes When Hiring a Military Divorce Attorney – Call Perkins Law Today

Our team of dedicated divorce attorneys in Colorado Springs is well-versed in military divorce law. We welcome the opportunity to assist you with your divorce, from initial consultation to final judgment. Respect and professionalism are the bedrock of our practice, and we take pride in helping servicemembers through the difficult transition of divorce. 

If you are searching for a military divorce attorney, contact Perkins Law today to schedule your free consultation.

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